Exactly 10 years since my own graduation from the hallowed halls of Willows High School, my alma mater is undergoing something of a Final Destination-esque string of tragic deaths within it’s current senior class. To put things in perspective, my graduating class was all of 99 people (the 100th got expelled the day of graduation) and the town hasn’t exactly exploded with growth since then. It’s a small town in the truest sense of the word. Nothing crazy really ever happens there. The only newsworthy death in Willows I can remember, until now, was my cousin Reed, who drowned in the Sacramento River after tying an ice chest to his ankle. They brought him back to life though. It was even on Rescue 911 ( albeit in a slightly edited capacity). But what’s been happening to the Class of 2008 is definitely something different for the residents of Willows, or, I’d imagine, any small town.
First there was the shocking death of Brian Parks, quarterback of the varsity football team, son of the head coach, and about as wholesome, All-American kid as they come these days. From the LA Times story:
Brian Parks collapsed Aug. 21, on a scruffy field, in the shadow of a badly bent goalpost. It was halfway through a Monday afternoon preseason football practice for the Willows High School varsity. Parks was a 16-year-old junior, a candidate to be the team’s starting quarterback. It was 92 degrees, a good 10 degrees cooler than at much of the previous week’s practices.
The person closest to Brian when he went down, about an arm’s length away, was the head coach. He was in his 29th year of coaching in the Northern Section of the California Interscholastic Federation, and the last 26 of those had been as a head coach. He also taught physical education, health and sports medicine at this school 75 miles north of Sacramento, and was the person best equipped to handle the crisis. Brian had fallen face down, helmet slightly embedded in the dirt. His arms were splayed to his sides, hands resting awkwardly. One of his teammates yelled at him to “Quit screwing around.”
When the head coach turned him over, he saw lifeless eyes. The head coach ordered a 911 call, then started CPR. Brian’s practice jersey was quickly cut off, then the shoulder pads. While an assistant searched for a pulse, the head coach continued mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, the procedure that he had taught and been taught.
It took less than three minutes for the paramedics to get there. In Willows, almost nothing is more than five minutes away. The sign at the city limits helps explain that: Population 6,250, Elevation 135. When the paramedics arrived, they found groups of teenage boys, standing in small clusters, their faces blank with a sort of collective inability to comprehend. Nearby, an assistant coach was down on all fours, sobbing. Once the head coach relinquished medical efforts to the paramedics, he thought of his wife, who had just driven up from their home, three blocks away. The head coach’s name is Curtis Parks, and he knew that he and Cindy had just lost their only son, a son whose middle name was Curtis.
Parks had died from an unknown heart defect: Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy. Fast forward to this year, and another prominent, stand-out Class of 2008 student, Kayla Arnold was stricken by an even more mysterious unknown ailment, dying after her family removed her from life support:
Kayla Arnold, 18, was taken off life support and died late Wednesday morning, according to family spokesman Curtis Parks, whose son Brian was a close friend and classmate of Kayla’s, but died in 2006.
â€œKayla was a wonderful young lady and loved by a lot of kids,â€ Parks said Wednesday. â€œI know the community will rally behind her family the same way they did last time.â€ Parks said that an official cause of death had not been determined as of Wednesday and said an autopsy would be scheduled â€œvery soon.â€
â€œThe doctors have been able to rule out a few possibilities. We know it did not have anything to do with drugs and meningitis was also ruled out,â€ Parks said. â€œBut, we still don’t know what actually happened or why.â€
The fact that the Arnold family spokesperson was Parks, the father of Brian Parks, should give you some idea of the close-knit community in which these two mysterious tragedies struck. In fact, Brian Parks and Kayla Arnold were buried only a few feet from each other in the Willows Cemetary. That two, tragic, untimely deaths had happened to the same class of kids was pretty rare in the annals of Willows High School history. People wondered how it was possible that two such unorthodox deaths could happen in such proximity to one another. Statistically speaking, it was all pretty bizarre. Then came the news today of Willows High School senior Stephen Furtado, pictured above, murdered alongside his prom date in the forlorn mountain outpost of Chester, CA:
A senior at Willows High School and his prom date were found dead Sunday afternoon by the girl’s mother in Chester. The Plumas County Sheriff’s Office said Steven Daniel Furtado, 18, and Chester resident Jennifer Carmen Carrigan, also 18, are the victims of homicide.
As it this all weren’t bizarre enough, after being informed of his sister’s death, Jennifer Carrigan’s brother Billy, drove from his home in Berkeley to be with his family. Only he didn’t make it:
After hearing about the death of his sister, Billy Victor Carrigan, 20, left Berkeley to be with his family in Chester. The California Highway Patrol reported that Carrigan was driving east on Highway 36 near Mineral when he lost control of his 2001 Toyota Tacoma pickup on a 30 mph curve. The truck skidded off the road, reportedly became airborne, and slammed into several pine trees. Carrigan was wearing a seat belt but suffered major injuries. He was flown by helicopter to Enloe Medical Center, where he was reported in critical condition today.
Now I don’t necessarily believe in curses, but I don’t necessarily not believe in them either. Maybe it’s just bad luck. Maybe its just one-in-a-million times 3. But some crazy shit is definitely happening in Willows, CA. Let’s all hope it stops.
UPDATE: Jennifer Carrigan’s brother Billy has died from the injuries he sustained in the crash:
Billy Carrigan died Tuesday at Enloe Medical Center in Chico, said Christina Chavira, a hospital spokeswoman. He had been in critical condition at the hospital since Sunday, when he got into the accident along Highway 36 outside his hometown of Chester, about 150 miles north of Sacramento.