Dozens of balloons dotted the sky Tuesday night as people gathered not to mourn, but to celebrate the lives of the nine UNC students who have died in the last year.
On what would have been Eve Carson’s 28th birthday, students and family members gathered in front of Morehead Planetarium for “Tar Heels Forever,” a balloon release held in memory of the deceased students.
The ceremony was held for Trevor Dolan, Stedman Gage, Laura Rozo, Faith Hedgepeth, Eric Metcalf, Andrew Crabtree, David Shannon, Julia Nan and Wanda McClamb.
Attendees wrote messages to those they lost on the balloons and released them into the sky after the Clef Hangers finished their famous rendition of “Carolina in My Mind.”
“We wanted to give everyone an opportunity to say goodbye,” said junior Kelly Metcalf, who helped organized the event, which was hosted by the UNC Student Alumni Association and the Eve Carson Scholarship Fund. She is unrelated to Eric Metcalf.
“I feel like last year so many (deaths) happened so quickly that we didn’t really have time to stop and think and say goodbye,” she added.
Junior Zack Newbauer, a committee member of the scholarship fund, said students who didn’t even know the deceased have been impacted by their stories — as he was with Carson’s.
“I think it’s a testament to the ability of this campus to keep these individuals’ spirits and the lessons that they taught us alive,” he said.
Some of the students who were remembered at the event died this past summer, including Julia Nan, who was struck by a tree during a flood in June. Junior Kelsey Leonard, a friend of Nan, said she was glad that there was a memorial during the school year to remember her.
“It’s nice to show that (Nan) has support and that we still care about her,” Leonard said.
Andrew Crabtree, who died of cancer just a few days after Nan, was remembered by friends and family at the event, including his mother, father and dog.
“If (Andrew) hadn’t died, he would be probably out here with you guys,” Guy Crabtree, Andrew’s father, told the crowd.
Junior Katie Savage remembered her friend Wanda McClamb, who died from surgery complications this summer.
“It’s very difficult for me to be here and speaking about her in the past tense,” Savage said. “Wanda was just an exceptional person and an exceptional human being, and her story is something that I hope is never forgotten here at Carolina.”
For some students, this was their first chance to say goodbye.
Junior Connor Belson said he was studying abroad when his friend Eric Metcalf died in a rock climbing accident. Belson said he was unable to attend his funeral or any of his memorial services.
He said the event gave him the opportunity to thank Metcalf for the memories they shared — something he was unable to do before.
Sophomore Megan Painter said she didn’t know any of the students who died last year, but said she still wanted to come to honor them.
“We are a community,” she said. “And we still have connections to those people.”
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