A makeshift memorial at the doorstep of Malden High School honored the life of Julia Vanella, a 16-year-old Melrose Youth Ballet dancer and junior at Malden High that died in a two-vehicle collision in New Hampshire on Saturday.
Icy roads may have played a role in the crash that killed Julia Vanella and left her mother and sister injured around 10 a.m. Jan. 11 on Route 16 in Wakefield, N.H. Three other people in the other vehicle involved in the accident were also seriously injured.
Schools Aid Grieving Students
On Monday Superintendent Dr. David DeRuosi Jr. said he was notified about the fatal accident around 3 p.m. Saturday.
"Right off the bat I reached out to (Malden High School Principal) Dana Brown and we have (Linden School Assistant Principal) Peter Dolan in district so we put our emergency response team right into play," DeRuosi said. "Saturday was really touching base to see if she had any siblings, which she did at the Forestdale School so I reached out to the principal there."
DeRuosi said Vanella had a sister in the seventh grade that attends Forestdale.
"We absolutely had grief counselors. We pulled some resources from some of the other buildings to make sure they were there to support students and staff," he said. "We actually opened the high school (on Sunday) from 1 (p.m.) on, and we provided guidance counselors (and) social workers came into the high school for any kids that wanted to basically have a place to go."
DeRuosi said he checked in with the principals at Malden High and Forestdale to see how the students were doing.
"It's a gauge of need right now. Some kids will obviously be impacted heavier than this...I trust it in the hands of both the response team in each building to manage that," he said. "Each principal gave out a notice in their building. I know that the Forestdale Principal Donald (Concannon) went to the seventh grade and read a statement to each of the classes. Both principals opened up earlier and brought staff in a little bit earlier to prepare for this (and) to support the students and staff that need the support but the faster you can bring the building back into that normal everyday flow...that consistency also helps a lot of kids and staff."
Students put together a candlelight vigil for Vanella near Jenkins Auditorium Sunday night, according to DeRuosi.
"We opened the high school on Sunday to allow kids to come in and we supplied giant flip chart poster boards where they write a simple message," said the superintendent. "It's difficult to lose a friend and it's an even bigger impact when it's a young life. These kids are doing the best to cope with it and we're there to allow them the space to cope."
According to DeRuosi, Vanella was an active student at the high school and an avid dancer.
"There were several members of the dance school she was part of there (at the vigil Sunday) at the high school," he added. “She was pretty active and well liked by her peers."
Roughly a dozen flowers could be found in front of the Donald E. Brunelli Jr. Building at the high school. Just to the right of the flowers was the makeshift memorial, where friends left heartfelt messages, votives, stuffed animals and other meaningful items in remembrance of Vanella.
Nick Watson, a senior at Malden High, paid his respects for Vanella at the memorial site.
"I know her from school and just seeing her around and talked to her a few times. She was nice," Watson said, adding that "it's rough when someone dies."
On a large white poster board, a friend named Chuck wrote, "Julia Vanella, You were an amazingly smart, gorgeous (and) funny person. As long as your (candles) remain here I will never let (your) fire be extinguished. Words just can't describe you, we all love you Julia. You will be in our hearts, minds (and) souls as long as we are alive. R.I.P."
According to a note written in permanent marker on a Dec. 19-21, 2008 Melrose Youth Ballet program, it was Vanella's first production of "The Nutcracker." She played a soldier in the performance given at Melrose Memorial Hall.
"Love you forever and always Jules," reads the message scrawled on the front of the program from a friend named Morgan.
View our photo gallery to see images from the memorial site in Malden.
Outpouring of Support for Vanella Family on Social Media
On the City of Malden Facebook page, they posted this message: "Our thoughts and prayers are with the family of the Malden High School student who lost her life in a car accident in New Hampshire yesterday."
On the Melrose Youth Ballet Facebook page, they wrote, "The (Melrose Youth Ballet) Board, directors, and extended MYB family are deeply saddened by the passing of MYB dancer, Julia Vanella. We offer our sincerest condolences and are keeping all of her friends and family in our thoughts and prayers. We also pray for the speedy recovery of Jenna Vanella, and her mother, Lisa. Everyone at MYB is thinking of you."
Dozens of people expressed their condolences for Julia and her family on the MYB status update.
"Beautiful girl! Life is so unfair sometimes! Thoughts (and) prayers to the family (and) friends of the Vanella family!" wrote Diane Ciriello-Le. "I know a bunch of kids devastated by this! So sad! I am so so sorry!"
"Too sad. I have been sick to my stomach since this tragedy, R.I.P. Julia. You are a precious young angel. So so sad," added Patricia Tish Ciulla.
On Monday, Twitter user @lisa_ringdah tweeted, "I feel like there's a black cloud over Malden High today...if you were friends with Julia, all I can say to you is stay strong."
Did you know Julia Vanella? If so, let us know how you'll remember her by posting a comment below.