‘It shakes the whole community’: Belchertown residents, classmates process student’s death

  • Belchertown High School

Staff Writer
Published: 3/6/2019 5:56:11 PM

BELCHERTOWN — Belchertown High School staff are working to provide a supportive setting for students following the death of senior Brendan Conroy on Tuesday, said Superintendent Karol Coffin.

“There was a lot of emotion,” Coffin said, “and students were really given flexibility yesterday to spend time at guidance, to spend time at the nurse or with an adult they felt they could talk with — or to spend time together.”

Prior to the start of the school day on Tuesday, teachers gathered in a meeting and received a statement about Conroy to read to students in their first-period classes, Coffin said. She added that the school chose “a smaller setting for (students) to hear that news.”

Conroy, 18, died in a car crash on Route 202 in Granby early Tuesday morning. Granby police responded to a call at around midnight on Monday that a car was “operating erratically,” and after an officer located the car, Conroy allegedly “sped away from the officer” and passed another vehicle before hitting a stone wall and a tree, according to Massachusetts State Police. Conroy was the driver and only occupant of the car and was pronounced dead at the scene, according to authorities.

The school has had grief counselors and staff from the Behavioral Health Network available since Conroy’s death. On Tuesday, students were also given time to make posters to express their feelings or were allowed to go home. The school will reassess student needs each day to decide how long to keep the extra support staff on hand, Coffin said.

Nick DaCosta, a sophomore at the high school, said that he did not know Conroy personally, but that “a lot of people went to guidance immediately” on Tuesday morning.

“Some of the classes were half empty,” he said, noting that upperclassmen were particularly affected.

Hayley Sicard, a senior at the high school, said that she also did not know Conroy, but sympathizes with his loved ones.

“People are just really upset about it,” Sicard said. “I feel really bad, and I know how it feels to lose a friend.”

In addition to providing support for students who need time to grieve, Coffin said that the school is also dedicated to ensuring a normal day for students who were not as affected.

“This is going to take quite an adjustment and going through the grieving process for students,” Coffin said. “And there are many students who are not impacted as strongly, and they need to have a regular day, so we’re trying to achieve that balance.”

At the time of his death, Conroy was facing an assault and battery charge after he allegedly broke another student’s jaw and caused other injuries during an incident in one of the high school bathrooms in January. Conroy had a court date scheduled for Wednesday, the day after his death.

DaCosta said that some students are still upset about the incident, but noted that most are expressing sympathy.

The school’s varsity hockey team, of which Conroy was a member this year, will be playing in the Western Massachusetts Division 3A championship game against Easthampton Thursday night in West Springfield. Many students plan to attend, according to DaCosta.

“That place is going to be packed,” he said.

Coffin said that the hockey players have had discussions with their coach about ways to possibly acknowledge Conroy at the game, but no decisions had been made as of Wednesday afternoon.

“It shakes the whole community, that’s for sure,” Dawn French, manager at Antonio’s Pizza in Belchertown, said of Conroy’s death. Several members of the hockey team work at the restaurant, French said, and the team has come together there since Conroy’s death.

French said that “a lot of kids” also gathered at the site of the crash on Wednesday morning.

Jacquelyn Voghel can be reached at jvoghel@gazettenet.com.

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