Friday, April 20, 2007
'I didn't have a son, but if I ever did, I'd want him to be just like Jarrett'
Jarrett Lee Lane was a 22-year-old senior, and his hometown of Narrows prepares to say goodbye.
Photos by Sam Dean | The Roanoke Times
Jarrett Lane was involved in sports from an early age. He is pictured here with his youth basketball team.
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NARROWS -- Grandmothers planted pansies.
School and town maintenance crews laid mulch, hung memorial ribbons and went around Narrows High School putting on coats of touch-up paint.
An old bedsheet flapped from a nearby railroad trestle with the words "We'll Miss U Jarrett" painted in blue.
It seemed that Jarrett Lee Lane, the 22-year-old Virginia Tech senior killed in Monday's massacre, didn't just belong to the mother and grandmother who raised him. He belonged to the entire 3,000-population town.
And for two solid days, the town has prepared to say goodbye to him.
"Nobody had to ask anybody to do any of this," said athletic director Don Lowe, as the last of the weeds were being pulled.
"People have just been showing up to help."
So many people are expected to attend Saturday's funeral, scheduled for 2 p.m. in the school auditorium, that chairs will be set up in the gymnasium with closed-circuit television to serve the overflow crowd.
Gathering at the high school felt right, said school employees and volunteers, because Narrows High was definitely Jarrett's home away from home:
The place where he caught the 6:30 bus to attend the Southwest Virginia Governor's School in Dublin;
The place where he played four sports -- and where coaches had to kick him out of the gym long after practice was over.
The place he still visited when he was home from Tech on break.
Thursday afternoon, friends and teachers wandered in and out of the school entranceway, contributing items to the memorial display or stopping by to look and pray. Clyde Turner brought a photograph to add: a copy of the Little League basketball team he had long ago coached, with fourth-grader Jarrett front and center, his little shoulders hunched, his freckled face grinning huge.
Between classes, students signed a memorial bulletin board, writing goodbye notes to Jarrett. National Honor Society members helped arrange Hokie paraphernalia -- a rug, a table, a hand-made quilt -- and pinned school-colored yellow and gold ribbons on visiting alumni and friends.
Todd Lusk, one of his basketball coaches, hauled out several of Jarrett's No. 24 jerseys from storage and arranged them on a table. A trombone from his band days was laid on top, next to copies of the 2003 Narrows yearbook, in which Jarrett was voted "most likely to have his head stuck in a book."
A framed picture of Jarrett as the 2003 class valedictorian was displayed on an easel, behind which his National Honor Society sash was draped.
When he was finished tying bows on the trees out front, school maintenance worker Sonny Frazier stepped inside to pay his respects.
He'd been Jarrett's Little League football coach in the seventh grade and recalled him as the "kind of kid, you could hug him even when he got older. Do you know what I'm trying to say?" he asked, choking up.
People talked about his ever-present smile. They speculated about the number of hours he slept between his rigorous Governor's School homework, playing all those sports and doing all those activities at First Baptist Church.
"Every day after practice, he'd say to me, 'What can I do to get better and to help the team get better?' " coach Bryan Patteson recalled. "He wasn't the best player on the team, but he was the best team player you've ever seen."
Jarrett was crazy about this school and this town, Patteson added, and the whole town took a part in raising him.
Today's visitation at the school will be closed to the media, at Jarrett's family's request. Earlier in the week, national media presence had been so intense -- with reporters banging on Jarrett's mom's door -- that local police stationed themselves in front of Tracey Lane's home.
"Katie Couric called me on my cellphone," complained Roger Shepherd, Jarrett's brother-in-law, as he stopped to look at the school memorial. "How Katie Couric got my cellphone number, I have no idea."
Down the hall, junior Gage Dent showed off a text message he'd received from Jarrett just hours before a gunman stormed his engineering class and changed life in this small, close-knit town.
Jarrett had gone home to attend church with his family, as he did every Sunday, and to share the recent good news: that he'd just been offered a full ride to the Coastal Engineering Graduate program at the University of Florida with a graduate assistantship to boot.
After church, he gave Dent a pep talk about following his dream to play college baseball. Later that night, from his Blacksburg apartment, he took time to send the young ballplayer this text message:
Gage if I had any advice 4 u itd be to acknowledge ur talent and run w it. Focus on ur pitchn, if u wanna play n college then go 4 it all out.
"I'm keeping it forever," Dent said of the message.
Several blocks away, Carleena Blankenship walked door to door amid the downtown Narrows businesses. She hung up Hokie-colored bows -- the same kind of ribbons the Junior Women's Club posted along the New River bridge earlier in the week.
The wind picked up and the rain started to drizzle, but Blankenship stuck to her task. "I didn't have a son, but if I ever did, I'd want him to be just like Jarrett," she said.