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Tree planting honors fallen student

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By Brandon Mattingly

Family, friends and faculty remembered Austin B. McBride at Washington County High School last Thursday, planting a tree and releasing a pair of white balloons in his memory.

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McBride, who died last month following an accidental gunshot wound while preparing to travel to a shooting competition, would have been a junior at WCHS this fall.

The memorial service included a poem from close friend and classmate Amanda DeWitt, as well as Bible passages and a prayer from Rev. Clay Stevens of Springfield Presbyterian Church.

“If I had a dime for every time I passed down this road right here, I’d be a very wealthy man,” Stevens said on Thursday. “Every time I pass in the future I’ll look up and see this tree and I’ll remember today and think about Austin.”

Those in attendance had the chance to take part in the ceremony, taking turns shoveling soil around the base of the freshly planted tree.

The memorial concluded with the release of a pair of white balloons, which the onlookers watched until they were beyond sight.

“I thought the balloons would be a good touch as they drifted toward heaven, because I feel like that’s where Austin is,” said WCHS Principal Paul Terrell. “I don’t know how high we watched those balloons go, but it was silent and everybody was thinking the same thing I think.”

Terrell said the idea for the tree planting came from DeWitt, and that he and the faculty immediately jumped on board. He reflected on McBride both as a student and as a teenager.

“Austin was a fine young man. He was just the kind of student that everybody liked and enjoyed being around,” Terrell said. “He always had a smile on his face and was in a good mood. He was really gifted with drawing, great with art. He was really an all-around good guy.”

Terrell added that Thursday’s turnout says it all about the impression McBride made on those around him.

“You could tell by the number of people that were at our memorial and at his funeral that he touched a lot of people,” he said. “Students from all backgrounds were willing to come in on a summer day to do a final memorial to him, and I thought it was a nice touch. That just says something about the quality of individual that he was.”

The tree sits right outside the principal’s office, which Terrell said will serve as a reminder to him. While the tree will be a reminder of McBride, it will also be a reminder of other tragedies during his tenure.

“Every day, when I come in my door to my office, I look right out the window. I’ll see it every day and I’ll think about Austin,” Terrell said. “Unfortunately, we’ve also lost other students in my four years as principal, and I remember all of them. It’s just sad that accidents and those types of things happen.”

School starts back Aug. 8 in Washington County, but there will undoubtedly be something missing this fall.

“The thing I’ll miss is his smile,” Terrell said. “I would always see him in the hallway and he’d have that smile on his face.”