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Friends gather to remember Chilliwack crash victims

Chilliwack secondary parking lot becomes memorial spot for Connor Dash, as friends mourn his and Gerritt Niessen's deaths on Sunday
Davin Padgham leaves a container of chewing tobacco at a parking lot memorial for Connor Dash at Chilliwack secondary on Monday morning.

They sent them off like only friends could.

On Monday morning, hundreds of mourners gathered in Chilliwack secondary school's parking lot to grieve the loss of Connor Dash and Gerritt Niessen.

They surrounded Dash's unofficial parking stall, which had been marked off in stones and filled with flowers and candles on Sunday. Dash and Neissen died early Sunday morning when Dash's truck left Ballam Road and slipped into the Fraser River.

The 18-year-olds were good friends, and shared a love of trucks, motocross and spending time at the river with their large group of friends. Niessen had graduated from high school last June, and Dash was set to graduate this year.

On Monday, their close crew of friends stood together to quietly share memories. And an even larger group of mourners included grads of 2015, 2016, teachers, staff, and parents in the school community.

Shortly after the morning bell ran, automotive teacher Kevin Moore choked back tears and addressed the students.

"The best way we can honour these boys, is to come inside and further your education," he said, asking them to follow him inside the school.

However, nobody was being ordered to get to class, and the boys' close friends were given space to grieve. They added empty liquor bottles, beer cans, and chewing tobacco to the memorial. And once the crowd was down to just a few dozen, they lined up their cars and trucks in the parking lot and proceeded to drive slowly and loudly around the lot. They took two slow, noisy, smoky laps around it, with drivers, passengers and onlookers crying, smiling and remembering their friends. School administration watched silently, as the procession filled the parking lot with smoke and the remnants of tire burnouts.

After an hour of congregating together, they moved onto the riverside for another farewell. A memorial with two crosses has been growing in size there since Sunday.

For students left to grieve inside the classroom, counsellors were made available. School staff had also set aside a room for students to gather, and talked about possibly moving a memorial into the school.

CSS principal David Manuel and district principal Nathan Ngieng, said they are working closely with students, staff, and teachers as they grieve.

"There is a grieving process and we recognize that," Ngieng said. When tragedy hits a school, administration keeps a watchful eye on how the student population has been impacted.

The loss of two young men, both known for their ready smiles and generous spirits, has had a profoundly deep impact on local youth.

On Monday night, friends returned for a candlelight vigil and another procession of cars of trucks. The alcohol containers left on Monday were removed from school grounds, but by Tuesday morning the growing memorial was filled with hundreds of rain-soaked candles, flowers, and personal items.

Both Dash and Niessen were also well known at the Popkum Motor Park, who announced the deaths Sunday afternoon on their Facebook page.

"Unfortunate news has been received that local MX rippers Gerritt Niessen & Connor Dash have passed away in an accident early this morning. Gerritt & Connor were regulars at Popkum practicing their craft and enjoying their love of moto. The motor family is saddened by the loss of such amazing kids. Gone to soon but never forgotten. Our sincere condolences to the Niessen and Dash families, friends and all affected in such a tragic loss."

They followed that up with the hashtags, #‎ripgerritt, #‎ripconnor and #‎ridewithgod.

A GoFundMe account has been set up by one of the boys' friends, Brooke Bell. She is planning to give the money to the families to help with funeral costs. On Tuesday, the amount raised was $650, toward a goal of $5,000.

"So many people's lives have been impacted by these boys. They were always smiling and just wanted to have a good time," she wrote on the page. "RIP to the Connor and Gerritt, they will forever be in our hearts."

The families have not yet announced a time for memorial services.


Jessica Peters

About the Author: Jessica Peters

I began my career in 1999, covering communities across the Fraser Valley ever since.
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