Tuesday, January 23, 2001

Death stalks Ross High

Classmates try to cope with 5th loss in 18 months

By Janice Morse
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Chad Thomas
        ROSS TOWNSHIP — David McWilliams' heart skips a beat whenever an ambulance siren wails past his office along Ohio 128.

        “Because of everything that's happened, I can't say I'm not gun-shy when I hear the e-squad go by,” said Mr. McWilliams, superintendent of the Ross Local Schools. The Butler County district is now grappling with its fifth student death in 18 months.

        “You can't help but ... wonder whether one of your kids is involved.”

  • Jan. 19, 2001: Chad Thomas, 16, a Ross High sophomore, dies after being thrown from a bull he was riding.
  • Oct. 18, 1999: A 13-year-old eighth-grader at Ross Middle School died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
  • Sept. 7, 1999: Ross High cheerleader Missy Boling, 16, and her 70-year-old grandfather, Robert Sandlin, were killed in a head-on collision on U.S. 27.
  • Aug. 20, 1999: A pair of Ross High football players, Adam Brinkman, 17, and Scott King, 16, were killed in a fiery “hill-hopping” crash on Kirchling Road.
        The latest death occurred Friday, when 16-year-old Chad Thomas was thrown from a bull he was riding at the Hang'n Tree Ranch on nearby Cochran Road.

        Located just west of Fairfield, Ross Township is a rural, close-knit community of about 7,000. Nearly everyone is acquainted. And in times of tragedy, just about everyone cares.

        “We've got a real sense of faith and community and family here that comes to the forefront in a very strong way,” Mr. McWilliams said.

        If a lawn needed mowing, it was mowed. If a hurting family needed a meal, it was cooked. If anyone needed a hug, he got one.

        And in a show of support, the school's cheerleaders went en masse to comfort the parents of fellow cheerleader Missy Boling when she died last school year, Mr. McWilliams recalled.

        Her traffic-crash death happened a few weeks after a fiery wreck killed football players Adam Brinkman and Scott King.

        The October 1999, the self-inflicted shooting of a 13-year-old was the district's fourth student death in a single school year.

        “You begin to wonder whether there's a cloud hanging over the district,” Mr. McWilliams said. “Once you get over that initial impression, you realize it's just bad timing.”

        Chad's death on Friday resurrected the pain that

        had faded like the pair of roadside crosses still marking the spot where Missy and her grandfather died.

        “High school is supposed to be fun. High school is not supposed to be a time of tragedy. Sixteen-year-olds shouldn't be burying their friends; parents shouldn't be burying their children,” Mr. McWilliams said.

        “You try to riddle in your mind why that happens — which is a question no one can answer.”

        Mr. McWilliams said he knows the healing has to hap pen on its own.

        “We'll get through this. We'll keep these kids in our hearts and our memories, but we'll get back on track and do what needs to be done,” he said.

        Chad's funeral is 2 p.m. Wednesday at Good Shepherd Church, 2275 Ross Hanover Road, where friends can call from 10 a.m. until the time of service. Burial will be in Millville Cemetery.

        A memorial service is 7:30 p.m. Friday at the Hang'n Tree Ranch on Cochran Road.

        Michael D. Clark contributed to this story.


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