The smell of spray paint lingered in the air as friends and family of two Appling teens who died in a car wreck Sunday morning mourned their loss at Harlem High School.
More than a hundred people surrounded a large rock on the corner of the campus that had been painted black with the red outline of a heart filling the void. In white lettering, the names of Joseph Chance Lonergan, 18, and Madison Scottland “Scotti” Gandy, 17, were painted above the phrase “Forever Young.”
“It feels like a bad dream that you can’t wake up from,” said George Ashmen, a Harlem senior and friend of Lonergan.
The couple were ejected from a 2003 Ford F-150 in the 6600 block of Shucraft Road on Sunday morning after the truck left the road, Columbia County sheriff’s Capt. Steve Morris said.
Lonergan died at the scene, Deputy Coroner Bonnie King said. Gandy, who was taken to Georgia Regents Medical Center, died less than an hour later. Both suffered from blunt force trauma. King said autopsies are scheduled in Atlanta on Tuesday.
Lonergan, who was a firefighter with the Harlem Fire Department, is the son of Harlem Fire Chief Tripp Lonergan, according to a post on the department’s Facebook page.
Ashmen said he and Lonergan played baseball together, and that Lonergan would go out of his way to help him on the field.
“He played first base, and I was trying out for first base,” he said. “Whenever I would slip up, he would show me how to do something better or encourage me in any kind of way.”
Mark Player, a Harlem senior, remembers the first time he met Gandy.
“She had this amazing giggle and she’d laugh at everything,” he said. “We used to pick on her about it, but now I realized that I’m going to miss it a lot.”
Player said he heard the news from a friend but didn’t believe it was real. Having attended Harlem Baptist Church with Lonergan, he said he got to know the couple well.
“Always together,” he said. “Always happy.”
People embraced each other as Scripture was read. The occasional sob broke the silence at the rock, dimly lit by the headlights of a few pickups.
“I know they’re in a better place, but I’d still like to see them,” Hunter Hyatt said as tears welled in his eyes. “I just don’t know why she deserved to die. She was one of my best friends, and I’ll never get to see her again.”