Hugs, tears and a somber mood among the dozens of people in attendance pervaded a candlelight vigil held Friday at the intersection of Bluff Road and Trout Hollow Road in memory of three teenagers who died in a vehicle crash there last Tuesday.
The memorial honored 18-year-old Joshua Moate, 15-year-old Hailey Lattina and 13-year-old Savannah Amsden, all of whom lived in Dupo at some point.
“We had put together a celebration of life to light candles for the ones who have passed,” said 16-year-old Kylie Radford, who helped organize the event through social media.
According to a preliminary Illinois State Police report, a 2007 silver Pontiac sedan driven by Moate with the other two teens as passengers was traveling north on Bluff Road approaching the curve near Trout Hollow Road when a white box truck driven by a 33-year-old man from St. Louis was heading south on Bluff Road and turning onto Trout Hollow Road.
The Pontiac struck the rear passenger side of the box truck as it was turning, with all three teens being ejected from the vehicle and being pronounced dead at the scene. The truck driver was uninjured.
ISP closed the road for several hours to investigate the crash, which remains under investigation.
Moate, who most recently lived in south St. Louis County, worked for Pretzel Pretzel and dreamed of owning his own pretzel store, according to his obituary. His nickname was “Joshman.” He formerly attended school in Dupo.
“Josh, he was very outgoing,” Radford said. “He always wanted to make people happy and entertain people. He always wanted to make sure people were doing OK.”
Lattina was a sophomore at Dupo High School.
“You were the best sister-in-law a person could ask for,” Sydney Lattina wrote on Facebook. “You immediately looked at me like I was family the first day we met. I’m very heartbroken that you’re gone.”
Amsden, a Dupo resident, was an eighth-grader at St. Mary’s in Belleville, per her obituary.
“Savannah was just a very good person,” Radford said. “She always made sure other people were doing great and better than her.”
Tracy Gochal, one of Amsden’s teachers who saw her about two hours before she died, echoed that sentiment.
“She had a very big, caring heart. She liked to please others,” Gochal said.
The Dupo School District also acknowledged the deaths in a letter to families last week, in addition to providing emotional support at school.
“As a Dupo Tiger family, we extend our deepest sympathies to the families and others who have been affected by this loss,” the district wrote.
At the vigil, loved ones ranging in age from children to senior citizens added candles, balloons and a T-shirt to the memorial that had been constructed at the intersection the day after the teenagers died.
Ariana Kukorola, one of Amsden’s cousins, also led an effort to write LLS, LLH and LLJ in candles, which stood for Long Live Savannah, Hailey and Josh, respectively.
With that done, the group gathered at the memorial released a paper lantern that many in attendance signed, lit their personal candles, and released balloons that were the favorite colors of each of the deceased.
Loved ones said the support from the community has been helpful in this unimaginable time.
“It kind of feels like relief for me,” Kukorola, 15, said of the support. “It’s still kind of hard to believe that they’re all gone because they were so young. But age doesn’t matter. It can happen to anyone.”
“Just be careful and drive safe, and know that you guys are young with a really long life ahead of you,” added 16-year-old Madasen Kemp, who also knew the victims and helped organize the vigil. “Things can happen quicker than you think it can.”
In addition to the showing of support at Friday’s vigil, community members have donated over $16,000 through three GoFundMe campaigns to help the teens’ families pay for funeral expenses.
“It’s really nice to know there’s a lot of people who care,” Kukorola said. “It means a lot to the families and their really close friends.”
Moate’s godmother, Dawn Barbercheck, echoed that sentiment.
“We just want to thank everybody for all their love and support, and not just for our family but for all the families,” she said. “This is a tragedy for a very small community.”