The Valdosta Daily Times
The healing process began with a prayer vigil in Brooks County High School's gymnasium Tuesday evening, mere hours after three students perished and one was critically injured as a result of a single-vehicle accident on Webster Road earlier in the day.
A crowd of hundreds packed the gym to pray for the friends and family of Jicarre Watkins, Johnie Parker and Shawn Waters. Football Coach Maurice Freeman spoke to the character of the three deceased students, for as long as his emotions would allow.
“We lost three kids this morning,” said Freeman. “Johnie Parker, #26, was a linebacker and student at the school. He was an up-and-coming kid and he worked hard ... Shawn Waters, number 32, upcoming senior used to have a tough time. He almost lost his eye in middle school in an accident. He always wanted to play and never quit ... Jicarre Watkins, number 72, wore number 72 because his brother did. He was recruited by colleges. He was a hard-working kid with high motivation and he never stopped talking.”
De'Vron Whitfield was injured in the single-vehicle crash; he was listed in critical condition Tuesday evening in Shands Hospital, Gainesville, Fla.
Simmie Jackson was in a vehicle behind the Ford Expedition that the four students were riding in. At the vigil, Jackson called for an end to speculation into the accident's cause.
“The God that we serve makes no mistakes,” said Jackson. “I stand before y'all to tell y'all, that I was behind those boys and they weren't doing the things that some of y'all have been calling and texting that they did. Don't 'what if' these young men. And don't lie on them.”
There were three counselors on standby for anyone overcome with grief, according to school board officials. Tuesday morning's tragedy reminded the Brooks County community that they are all family, and Freeman said that it was time for the family to move together towards healing.
“When you wake up tomorrow morning, by God's grace, sprint if you can,” said Freeman. “If you can't sprint, then stride. If striding is too difficult right now, then walk really fast. If you're not ready to walk fast, then just walk. If you can't walk, then you better crawl. But you have to get out there.”