Chamberlain and Chase Underhill died on Saturday night after Underhill lost control of his vehicle on Little River Church Road in northern Orange County. Chase and Kacie were only 16 years old.
Kacie’s family and friends laid her to rest on Friday at a funeral in Durham’s New Horizon Church. Chase Underhill’s funeral took place just two days before.
Orange High School principal Jason Johnson says the students and staff have held together as well as can be expected, but it’s been a wrenching week nonetheless.
“It’s always tough,” he says. “I mean, when you lose a child–it’s always devastating. This community’s very tight-knit–you talk about a very caring community here–and it just crushed everybody.”
In the aftermath of the accident, the Orange community came together almost instantly—creating a Facebook page and YouTube videos in memory of Chase and Kacie, as well as a makeshift memorial at the site of the crash itself.
And at Orange High School—where students just returned this week from their winter break—Johnson says counselors have been on hand to help students and staff cope with their grief, with special attention to those who knew Chase and Kacie best.
“We came in and worked on Sunday and Monday,” he says, “and we started identifying kids that were very close with Chase and Kacie, to the best of our ability, and we went ahead and pulled them first thing (Wednesday) morning just to bring them together and work with them…
“We’ve had counselors up until today here, and they’re on standby if we have anything that (comes) up next week.”
And Johnson says he spoke with the students personally as well.
“I personally talked with the junior class and the senior class,” he says, “just to talk to them about what options they have, to dispel any rumors that might be out there, and to talk to them about what lessons they need to take from all this…
“It’s difficult, when you’re sitting there looking at three or four hundred kids in each class, (to) tell them that their classmate’s passed away.”
Hundreds of people turned out on Wednesday for Chase Underhill’s funeral, and again on Friday for Kacie Chamberlain’s. Johnson says there’s been an outpouring of support from members of the community—students, staff, and parents alike, whether they knew Chase and Kacie or not.
“And that’s the thing, as a parent–I’m a parent, with two kids, and–I heard a lot from parents that didn’t even know Chase and Kacie, (who) wanted to help out,” he says. “We don’t understand the experience that these parents are going through, but we ourselves would never want to experience anything like it.”
The crash that killed Underhill and Chamberlain took place in the middle of what police are calling a “prearranged speed competition” with another Orange student, Collin Lunsford. Two other teens, McCray Williams and Sam Whaley, were also injured in the crash; Lunsford has been charged with four misdemeanors stemming from the incident.
Regardless of the circumstances, though, Johnson says it’s a tragic loss—one that the Orange High School community will struggle for the rest of the year, at least, to overcome.
“We’re talking about some great kids–all the kids involved were great kids–and it’s truly a tragedy,” he says.