OAKLAND — More than 700 students and staff at Messalonskee High School gathered Thursday to thank communities across the state for an outpouring of moral and financial support following the aftermath of separate tragedies this year that resulted in the deaths of two students and serious injuries to a third.

The communities that make up Regional School District 18 — Oakland, Belgrade, Sidney, Rome and China — adopted the slogan “Messalonskee Strong” following the tragedies, and many students Thursday wore shirts bearing that message.

“Each day is a little bit better,” said Assistant Principal Paula Callan. “It’s hard to say we’re having a normal day, but each day is a little better than the day before.”

Nora Birch, of Belgrade, was 17 years old when she committed suicide Sept. 30. Just 11 days later, a hayride accident at Mechanic Falls claimed the life of 17-year-old Cassidy Charette, of Oakland.

The accident sent 22 people to the hospital, including six Messalonskee High School students, among them Charette’s 16-year-old boyfriend Connor Garland, of Belgrade, who was seriously injured.

Callan said the school has been stunned by the support extended by communities from Presque Isle to Kittery and other Maine towns in between.


“It was just amazing, the cards, the words of encouragement, the donations to scholarship funds,” she said.

As of Thursday, the school had received a total of $11,933 in donations toward scholarship funds set up in honor of Birch and Charette, as well as the school’s general-assistance fund that benefits students in need and a fund to help pay for Garland’s medical bills. “It’s very generous,” Callan said.

Of that total, $1,500 came from nearby Winslow High School, where Athletic Director Jason Briggs said more than $1,000 was raised in less than 15 minutes by passing football helmets before the annual Waterville-Winslow game. The remainder, he said, was raised by a variety of Winslow athletic boosters.

“Ultimately, when one community is impacted like this, it has an impact on all of us,” Briggs said, noting that many Winslow students were friends with the victims. “We thought it was important to reach out from our community to theirs.”

Thanking the communities for the outpouring of support was no easy task, said Callan. Rather than simply saying thank you, she wanted to do more, so more than 700 students and staff, many wearing the “Messalonskee Strong” shirts, gathered in the gymnasium Thursday.

The shirts were sold by members of the Messalonskee junior class with proceeds going to the scholarship fund created in memory of Charette, a member of the class.


Students also hoisted a banner to give the communities a public thank-you. Callan said the assembly message was sent on behalf of all the schools in the district, which all have received some form of support since the students’ deaths.

“There were just no words that could adequately say thank you,” she said.

Evan Belanger — 861-9239


Twitter: @ebelanger

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