Hundreds attend vigil for 14-year-old middle school student killed by car driving on sidewalk
Just before the sun set Sunday evening, the principal of Overland Park’s Oxford Middle School urged her students to wear flannel Monday morning.
Alex loved flannel. The way it felt. How it was comfortable and cozy.
And so, when the Blue Valley students begin to grieve the loss of their classmate, Alexandra “Alex” Rumple, wouldn’t it be fitting to wear what the eighth-grader so often wore?
“This is going to be a really difficult time, and I know that,” Oxford Principal Linda Crosthwait said to the hundreds of tearful middle-schoolers and their parents who attended Sunday evening’s vigil at the middle school football field. “I want you to know that we are here from the beginning to support your children.”
Alex died Sunday from injuries suffered when she was hit by a car Friday afternoon. She was walking home from school when a car ran off the road and struck her, Overland Park police said.
The car, which was headed north, first went off the road in the 12700 block of Switzer and then continued north and struck the teen and a traffic signal pole in the 12300 block. The car continued north and finally stopped in the 12100 block of Switzer, partially destroying a wooden fence.
It isn’t yet known what caused the car to leave the road. Overland Park have not released the name of the driver.
Taylor Ogden Thomas, of the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection, let the classmates and their parents know that she understands the level of pain they are feeling.
“We are asking why,” Ogden Thomas said. “Hear me when I say, it is OK to feel however you are feeling. You may be angry... shocked ... even numb.’”
These feelings, she said, remind us all that we are human. And then, she asked the hundreds of people to do something for her.
“Lock eyes with someone,” she told them. “And say, ‘I see you. You are not alone.’”
For Alex, the echoes of these words filled the football field.
This week was going to be a full one for the eighth-grader. The band, where she played trumpet, performs on Tuesday. And then, the rest of the week, Alex would be competing with her robotics team during a world competition, the principal said.
“And get this,” Crosthwait told those mourning Sunday night. “She was the only middle school student — the rest are high schoolers.”
Her academics, and what some called “wisdom beyond her years,” caused math teacher Debra Burns to once think: Wow, when I grow up I want to be like Alex.
The straight-A student, who played soccer and swam, ran track and excelled in art, was struck about a block from her school. A makeshift memorial, with dozens of flower bouquets and a banner with the shaky handwriting of grieving young people, sits at the corner of 123rd and Switzer.
“I want people to know that she lived such an outgoing, forward life,” said Adam Koehler, 14, who knew Alex since the fourth grade. “She was always one with a smile on her face, striving to make people feel better.”
At one point during the 45-minute vigil, other students had the chance to come forward and share about Alex. They talked about how smart she was. How she wanted everyone to feel included. And how she always wore a colorful bracelet a close friend made for her at Girl Scout camp.
As they shared, other students hugged their parents or went off by themselves and sat in the grass by the track. Some thanked the scores of people for coming out for their friend and her family, who sat in chairs in the front row.
As Ogden Thomas put it: “This is love — showing up. To honor Alex, you have to keep showing love.”
A GoFundMe page was set up by a classmate of Alex originally to help raise money to pay her hospital fees. The money raised, however, will now be used to cover funeral expenses.
In eighth grade, students read The Outsiders, a well-known novel where one of the main characters dies young. In it, there’s a poem by Robert Frost.
It was only fitting, the principal said, to read this for the student gone too soon. So two English teachers stood before the crowd and shared “Nothing Gold Can Stay.” Teacher Andi Husted, her voice breaking, read the words:
Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.
Husted’s voice continued to break.
“Stay gold, Alex.”