On Sunday evenings, members of FGCU’s Greek sororities and fraternities gather in separate rooms across the campus to host their respective chapter meetings.
Sunday night, however, they joined other university students, faculty, and staff on the library lawn to commemorate the life of Zeta Tau Alpha member, Carisa Herald.
Herald, 20, a junior majoring in criminal justice, died Friday in a car crash near Tampa. Herald’s boyfriend, who was also in the car, survived.
The news of Herald’s death spread through online social networks, as students shared their shock and grief with each other — by creating an “ripcarisaherald” hashtag or updating their Facebook statuses with messages of love and loss— but the candlelight vigil gave them a chance to unite in person to try to make sense of the tragedy.
The vigil was scheduled to start at 7:30 p.m. but the crowd started gathering early. University officials estimated about 1,000 people attended.
Three pictures of Herald were surrounded by a circle of lit white candles, and some of her friends chose to sit beside the images, huddled close together.
As more people joined the crowd, songs with lyrics about beauty, life, and heaven played from speakers. The lighted tips from the the crowd’s collective candles created an atmosphere of warmth around them, and the mourners hugged each other, some audibly weeping amid the silent solidarity in which they stood.
President Wilson Bradshaw and his wife, Joanna, were beside students and Florida Gulf Coast University administrators in the vigil. Bradshaw, who spoke on behalf of the university before the crowd, made a promise to continue to honor Herald’s legacy.
“Carissa’s presence will always be felt on this campus. I’m going to make sure of that,” Bradshaw said.
And as request from Herald’s family, a student read the serenity prayer. Some chose to say it along with him, others just put their arms around each other.
During the vigil, Bonny Boutet, one of Herald’s sorority sisters, remembered her as someone who shared “passion, love, and light” with everyone.
“To know that’s gone is the hardest thing,” Boutet said.
Boutet encouraged mourners to cry and “let it all out” because she said Herald would have done the same, but Boutet urged everyone to eventually smile again.
“When (Carisa) was done crying, what did she do? She got up and smiled,” Boutet said.
Then Herald’s friends, agreeing, held their candles up in a silent final toast.