Shania “Lucy” Boettcher, 18, of Woodstock, had been set to walk across the stage and receive her diploma tonight, but instead, a seat will remain empty in honor of the fallen Etowah Eagle.
More than 500 students, parents, friends and teachers gathered Wednesday night for a student-led vigil to remember and honor Boettcher and Darius Valcarcel, 22, a 2010 Etowah graduate, who also died in the accident in Dunwoody.
Etowah High Principal Keith Ball knew Boettcher, and said she was a genuinely positive person who was always smiling.
“She was a top graduate — top 15 percent. She was an awesome kid; that’s why there are so many people here. Lucy was unbelievably positive,” Ball said at the vigil. “She was always smiling, always making everybody feel welcome.”
Ball said Boettcher did joint-enrollment, taking classes at both Etowah and Kennesaw State University.
“My burning memory of her last year was I went to her honors chemistry class … She was having the absolute best time doing the chemistry experiment,” Ball said. “She just thought it was the best thing; it’s because she’s unbelievably smart, and she was just a great kid.”
A band played Christian worship songs, and the large crowd made up of mostly students sang and swayed along with the music.
Lucy’s mother, Nina Boettcher, clutched a framed photo of her daughter as she cried and swayed along with the worship songs. Rusty Boettcher, Lucy’s father, smiled at stories told about his daughter, and cried with his wife, children and friends.
Later, the band played light music as friends and family told stories about Boettcher, and the 500 or so people lit candles and held the flames to the sky in memory of how Boettcher was “a bright light” to everyone who knew her.
Sam Boettcher, Lucy Boettcher’s younger brother, said he and Lucy always stuck together.
“I always loved her, and she always loved me,” he told the crowd. “She was a blessing here on earth and an angel. And now she’s a blessing and an angel in the kingdom of God.”
Michelle Boettcher, Lucy’s younger sister, said she loved her sister so much.
“She taught me everything I know,” she said to the mourners.
Boettcher and Valcarcel were on the way to Stone Mountain with friends, reportedly to see a laser light show, when the driver, Etowah senior Shauna Clausen, 17, of Acworth, lost control and over-corrected, causing their SUV to roll multiple times, police said.
The driver’s boyfriend, Valcarcel, was partially ejected from the car and died from his injuries. Boettcher was not wearing a seatbelt when the wreck happened and was thrown from the SUV, police said.
Boettcher’s boyfriend, Anthony White, 21, of Dallas, Texas, was also in the car. Clausen and White survived with some cuts and scrapes.
At the vigil, White cried and hugged Boettcher’s family and friends. White asked others to be safe and always wear their seat belts.
Bandages covered the cuts on his left leg, a physical reminder of the wreck he survived the night before.
White, who said he planned to marry Boettcher, said she was his “princess,” and he encouraged friends and family members to be strong.
“She was a true angel to everyone,” White said during the vigil. “She changed my life for the better … She made all of us better people.”
Richard Holman said his friend Boettcher was like his “little sister,” and he was like her “big brother.”
“I’ve known Lucy for years,” Holman said, choking back tears. “Her family is such a blessing, and they loved her and she loved them.”
Holman said, one time, he was swimming in a river with Boettcher and he pushed her in.
“I swam her back to shore. She kept saying, ‘You saved my life, you saved my life,’” Holman said. “But, guys, she helped save mine. Bringing God closer to me than I’d ever felt. She’s the best sister I never had.”
Hailey Lyerly said Boettcher was talented, beautiful and her best friend.
Lyerly cried as she said, “I can’t imagine going through life without her.”
Dozens more spoke at the tearful vigil, which lasted well past 10 p.m.
Ball said he’s so proud of the students, and noted the vigil was completely student-planned.
“They’re a resilient bunch. They’ve gone through a lot,” Ball said. “This is their third classmate that has passed away in four years. All 530 of them, they have done an incredible job to stick together and see this through the end. I’m not shocked, but I’m unbelievably proud.”
From students and church friends, to neighbors and teachers in their 40s and 50s, many people told stories of their time with Boettcher.
Steve Pettit, pastor of Branches of Christ church, said losing Boettcher was like a neon sign that lost a light.
“Right now, our world is missing one of the big lights that was in it,” Pettit said. “You thought you had a lifetime … We don’t have forever here. But there is a forever, and that’s what she believed in.”
A friend of Boettcher’s said losing Lucy was “more like a neon sign losing all but one of its letters.”
Pettit said Boettcher was a strong Christian, and showed it through her love and care for others.
“I know if Lucy were here, she’d give all of us a big hug,” Pettit said.
Sosebee Funeral Home is handling the arrangements for Boettcher.
The funeral service is scheduled for Sunday at 3 p.m., at His Hands Church, at 550 Molly Lane in Woodstock. Pastor Jarad Houser is officiating the service.
Boettcher is survived by her parents, Rusty and Nina Boettcher, and siblings Sam, Michelle and Luna Boettcher, along with two grandmothers, a great-grandfather and many cousins, aunts and uncles.
In lieu of flowers, the family has asked for donations to the Lucy Boettcher Memorial Fund, which can be found online at fundly.com/lucy-boettcher-family.
Information on funeral arrangements for Valcarcel was not immediately available at the time of publication.