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The real cold this weekend came in addition to the single-digit temperatures.
Grieving students, faculty and families sought warmth from one another as they tried to cope with the deaths of sophomore Kyle Burnat, 19; sophomore Andrew Dwyer, 19; junior Sean Fenton, 20; and sophomore Nicholas Grass, 19 — victims of a four-car crash early Friday morning on Interstate 95 that involved nine Yale students. Burnat, Dwyer and Fenton were pronounced dead at the scene. Grass died Saturday at St. Vincent’s Medical Center in Bridgeport. Community members have pulled together to support those affected by the tragedy, attending vigils and memorials held over the weekend.
Approximately 400 people attended a gathering Friday evening at 7:30 p.m. in the John J. Lee Amphitheater in Payne Whitney Gymnasium. Students and faculty members streamed in silently, filling bleachers lined with tissue boxes. Some students, many wearing team jackets, sat on the gym floor.
Yale College Dean Richard Brodhead and University Chaplain Frederick Streets spoke at the short gathering, providing students with more information about the events and several moments of silence.
“I’ve been here a long time. In all my time here at Yale, this is as black a day as I have ever experienced,” Brodhead said. “This kind of day gave you an education we never intended to give you.”
Students were invited to join the Baker’s Dozen in singing “Amazing Grace,” but most remained silent and simply listened.
Following the gathering, residential college masters hosted students in their homes late into the evening.
Approximately 30 students congregated in the home of Davenport College Master Richard Schottenfeld immediately following Friday’s gathering. Both Dwyer and Fenton lived in Davenport.
There, students gathered in small groups in the living room and dining room to comfort each other and talk quietly, some crying, some smiling sadly.
While some students knew the victims, many said they were drawn to the Master’s house to show support for others in their college.
“I think that even for those of us who didn’t know either one, it’s hanging over the college and it will be for a while,” a Davenport senior said.
In the Pierson College Master’s house, the uncertain fate of Grass — who was still in critical condition at the time — was especially difficult for students, Pierson Master Harvey Goldblatt said.
When one Pierson student attempted to tell a story she remembered about Grass, she was overcome with tears.
Students found some solace among familiar faces, Goldblatt said.
“This is a family, and we’ll stand together as a family no matter what,” Goldblatt said.
While all athletic events were postponed Friday evening, Yale faced two basketball games against Brown University on Saturday.
Yale Athletics Director Tom Beckett announced Grass’ death at the women’s basketball game Saturday afternoon. Spectators and players observed a moment of silence before the game began.
Many students at the game said Yale’s sense of spirit has become more pronounced since the accident.
“We thought it was important to come out and show our support for the basketball team, especially during this difficult time,” Ellen Kanner ’03 said.
Across campus and in New Haven, attendees at religious services on Sunday morning paused to remember the victims of the accident. Later that day, a memorial was held for Fenton, a native of Newport Beach, Calif., in Battell Chapel.
At the memorial, students, faculty members and others spoke of Fenton’s mental and physical strength, smiles and selflessness. Fenton’s suitemate Clifford Cheung ’04 sang “Hey, Jude,” which he said was Sean’s favorite song.
Sean’s father, Robert Fenton, said the speeches by Sean’s friends were exactly what Sean would have wanted. Robert Fenton said his son loved Yale and his friends here were very important to him.
“It was his home away from home,” Robert Fenton said. “He felt good here, like he had family here — his friends were his life. Anyone who knew him knew that.”
He urged students to do what Sean would want — have fun, make friends, take care of one another.
“We have to realize that we’re going to miss him, we’re going to think of him, but we’ll have to move on. — You gave him the opportunity to be him and help him grow. We have to heal — I just hope that at some point in the future, we’ll all look back and not forget him.”
Fenton’s roommate of three years, Walter Badgett ’04, recalled Fenton’s constant desire to finish the projects he started, from a computer Fenton built from scratch with money he earned over the summer to a bar made out of scrap wood found in the Davenport attic.
“How much he would have liked to finish what he started here,” Badgett said.
Fenton’s friend Michael Lazarus ’04 also recounted the time one of his suitemates was sick and Fenton carried the suitemate down from the third floor to the ambulance. Fenton then insisted upon accompanying his friend to the hospital, Lazarus said.
“He finally left when he was sure everything would be okay,” Lazarus said.
On Monday, a wake was held for Grass in Holyoke, Mass. A memorial service for Burnat was held in Atlanta.
Other services in memory of the victims will be held today.
With two students returning from the hospital over the weekend, Calhoun College hosted a “Welcome Home” banner-signing on Sunday night in the dining hall, Calhoun freshman counselor Anthony Cotto ’03 said.
Cotto said students in Calhoun found themselves in a difficult situation. While students were happy that Cameron Fine ’06 and Christopher Gary ’06 had survived the accident, they also were mourning the loss of Burnat.
“It was amazing to see the turnout — the people who knew them, the people who didn’t,” Cotto said.
Throughout the weekend, many community members reflected on the strength and closeness of the Yale community.
Davenport fellow Eytan Halaban said the community created by the students reflected the solidarity shown during many tragedies that touched Yale. At Yale, he said, students can turn to the campus community for comfort. Halaban said that on Sept. 11, 2001, people remained at the Master’s house until 2 a.m.
“Students really want to be together in those times,” Halaban said. “Everyone came, and stayed, and lingered, because they wanted to be together.”
At the memorial for Fenton, Streets said the opportunity to come together would provide some comfort to those affected by the tragedy.
“We often find a strange kind of strength when we are together, a strength that we cannot find when we are alone,” Streets said.
— Staff Reporters Martha Fulford and William Sullivan contributed to this report.