Mourning the Marshalls

Brenna Swift, The Union Democrat /

The Bret Harte High School campus was alight with hundreds of candles Wednesday night as the community gathered to remember slain students Alex and Macaila Marshall.

The shooting deaths of the two well-liked students, apparently by their father, in what's described by the authorities as a murder-suicide has shocked the community and plunged Bret Harte High into grief.

Alex, 17, was a Bret Harte junior, and his sister Macaila, 14, was a freshman.

Students stood Wednesday night, teary-eyed and sniffling, as a large projector screen displayed photos of the pair to music. The fun-loving siblings were shown with dozens of friends - making faces at the camera, hugging, going to dances and being teenagers.

Senior Taylor Westberg, one of the leadership students who organized the vigil, said the siblings would have been "shocked" to see how they touched the community.

"Macaila and Alex are now our angels," Westberg said. "… We know they will always be here to guide us."

He drew laughter from the crowd when he said Macaila's friends could count on her aversion to physical activity. Her love of cats was legendary, and Westberg said he was sure she'll be the "cat-keeper of heaven."

Several girls had painted their faces with whiskers in her honor Wednesday night. Others decorated their cars or marked up T-shirts with remembrances of the siblings.

Alex was "well-known for being the nice guy," Westberg said. He loved Spiderman and even owned a Spiderman hoodie. Eventually, his nickname became Peter Parker - the fictional high school teen turned superhero.

Senior Alexus Dommeyer put together the slideshow from photos sent in by friends and the Marshalls' mother, who was present at the vigil. Students lit candles that had been bought with community support.

The crowd burst into laughter again at a photo of Macaila with pretzels in her nose and Alex buried under sand.

Their teachers and friends describe the pair as constantly smiling, joking and laughing, a fact borne out by the dozens of photos.

"I don't think I've ever seen so many smiles," said pastor Shawn McCamey of Refuge Angels Camp.

McCamey urged the students to keep their candles and light them again in rough moments.

"In order to get through these tough times, we're going to need each other," he said.

Beginning on Monday, Bret Harte has had a team of crisis counselors in the library. It includes a rotating group of school counselors, therapists with private practices, youth ministers and others.

"I'm in awe of their resiliency and their strength," Bret Harte staff counselor Sherri Sedler said of the students.

Bret Harte Superintendent and Principal Mike Chimente said the school is trying to preserve a sense of routine, though the state allowed it to postpone high school exit exams scheduled for this week.

"We're trying to help our kids through the mourning process," Chimente said.

At the same time, he added, students have taken the reigns and planned ways to honortheir slain classmates.

They decided to waive the entry fee at a dance scheduled to follow Friday's basketball game against Calaveras High School, instead collecting donations for a scholarship fund set up at the U.S. Bank branch in Angels Camp.

It will provide scholarships for Bret Harte students involved with the promotion of mental health awareness and gun control regulations.

A memorial service for the siblings has been scheduled for 11 a.m. Saturday at Bret Harte's football stadium.

The Union Democrat
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