Grim Reaper Visits Wood River High
An alcohol prevention project goes beyond statistics and lectures to bring the message home.
The day was anything but routine for students at Wood River High School. Throughout the day, eight of their classmates were taken from them by an unwelcome figure.
"The Grim Reaper would come and get us one by one and tell us that we had died, and then a police officer would read our obituary to everybody else of what happened to us," says junior Jamie Rojas, one of the students chosen to "die".
The student death scenarios were drug and alcohol related. With prom and graduation just around the corner, the Central Nebraska Council on Alcoholism and Addiction says it's a good time for the prevention message.
"Across the United States, approximately every 53 minutes, someone dies from an alcohol-related crash," says CNCAA Director Connie Holmes.
But instead of just talking statistics, the Grim Reaper Project tries to show students what a death in their school might be like.
"At first it wasn't a big deal, I felt like it was almost kind of a joke, but then when you realized how hard it is not to talk to anybody, and especially when my parents read the letter," says junior Matty Luehr.
Luehr's parents and other moms and dads of the chosen students tearfully read goodbye letters at a mock funeral assembly to end the day.
They all began the same: "Today you died. I never had the chance to tell you…"
Organizers hope the emotion hits home.
"When we lose someone that doesn't just affect me, that affects so many other people – family, friends, peers, so we want to get down deeper than just thought, we want to get to the heart," says Holmes.
"You put your parents through, you put teachers and school members through, the local firefighters through, community members through, it's not only you that you impact when you go out and decide to drink and drive, but everyone," says Wood River Principal Terry Zessin.
Students believe the project can make a difference.
"I think it will affect some, of course there will always be those that just blow it off, but I think some kids can really be affected by this because they might realize just how serious this is," says Luehr.
"We're all friends here in Wood River since it's a small town, everyone knows everybody and so once someone dies, probably it would be really hard, it would impact everybody," says Rojas.
School officials say Wood River did the Grim Reaper Project once about eight years ago, and it had a lasting impact. So much so that today's students who weren't involved that first time have been asking to have it again ever since.