In February, Phineas Haq and two of his closest friends traveled to Birmingham, Ala., to run their first marathon. Running for 26.2 miles is quite a feat for anyone, especially for high school sophomores.
“We were [running] together the first 17 miles or so and then we traded back and forth,” said Sasha Herod, 16, who ran cross-country and track with Phineas at Dunwoody High School. “He was really supportive because it hurt. We got through it together.”
Just two months after finishing a marathon, Sasha and more than 200 Dunwoody High School students came together April 9 at Dunwoody United Methodist Church to remember Phineas after they learned their friend had died in Florida during Spring Break the week before.
Sasha said Phineas fell while running in Florida and hit his head. He was taken to the hospital in critical condition where he later died.
“We don’t know [what happened] for sure,” he said. “He fell when he was running.”
So many questions can’t be answered, acknowledged the adults trying to assist the youth through their grief.
“We are all trying to figure out why and how this tragedy happened to such an amazing young man … I don’t have the answer,” said Cross Country Coach Brad Hendrickson at the vigil at the church Phineas and his family attended.
“We have to rely on each other for support during these difficult times,” Hendrickson said. “We have to come together as one because we are one… we are one Wildcat family.”
During the emotional vigil, students signed canvases and wrote letters to give to Phineas’ family. Several teens sobbed audibly as friends spoke of their love of Phineas. They embraced and held hands.
Ally Womble, a DHS senior, shared how she and Phineas competed in the pole vault together.
“He was a phenomenal athlete and person,” she said. “He truly lived live in the best way possible. Cross country practices, track practices, the halls of Dunwoody High School and church will never be the same without you.”
Ally finished her thoughts with 2 Timothy 4:7: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”
Ethan Herod, also a senior and Sasha’s older brother, said Phineas could always bring a smile to someone’s face.
“He was always ready to joke around, he was always ready to put his head down and get to work,” Ethan said. “He really did live a Christian life, a good life.”
Andrew Chappell, director of Youth Ministry at Dunwoody UMC, said it was important to bring the young people together after being separated during Spring Break so they could know they were not alone in their grief.
“I hurt for our kids,” he said. “I don’t think I’ve thought of anything else.”
How a community and a school deal with the loss of someone so young won’t be easy, Chappell said.
“We have incredible leaders at the school, among teachers and students,” he said. “This community surrounds each other. And those teachers and coaches care about their students.”
The students also know they can rely on each other, he said, pointing out how many of them crowded together in a large group, hugging each other and wiping the tears from each others faces at the vigil.
“They’re doing what they know to do,” Chappell said. “They know what they need – they need each other right now.”
City Councilmember Terry Nall attended the vigil and said the city is made up of people who genuinely care for each other and will support each other through this tragedy.
They all have helped each other through past tragedies as well, including the death of DHS student Mauricio Oliveros, who was killed in a car wreck on March 22.
The community also came together after 2015 DHS graduate, Alexander “Ty” Flynn, died last May in an accident at the Pullman Train Yard, and when last April, Halle Scott, a 2014 graduate of DHS, was one of four University of Georgia students killed in a car crash.
“We’re a community built on the rock of faith-based institutions, based on schools, based on strong parents, based on strong citizens and students, and together we’ll come through this,” Nall said.
“There will be heartache, there will be some tears, but there will be strength that will come from this,” he said. “The best thing we can do is never forget Phineas or any of the others and their let their spirits shine though us.”