HERMON, Maine — The crowd was as large as anticipated, but the outpouring of support and the amount of grief shared were immeasurable as the communities of Hermon, Carmel, Levant and others gathered for the joint funerals of two Hermon High School students Saturday.
Friends, family and even acquaintances of Richard A. “R.J.” Picken Jr. of Carmel and James C. “Jimmy” McPhearson III of Levant filled the Hermon Baptist Church, surrounding parking lots of the church and neighboring businesses and roadsides to overflow capacity even well before the funeral began at 11 a.m.
“Today we remembered how two young men have touched our lives, not just by a harsh tragedy,” said Hermon Baptist Church Pastor Garnett Chute. “Their everyday lives made our lives special by their zest for living and adventure. Today besides remembering, we’re here to release these two young men to the arms of God.”
Picken, 14, and McPhearson, 16, were killed when the 1998 Saturn McPhearson, a high school junior, was driving crashed into a utility pole in Carmel Monday night. Police cited driver inexperience and speed as the cause of the crash.
More than 900 people jammed into the large church, many on the main floor and the back balcony and 300 at the basement level listening to the 75-minute service over loudspeakers and watching on closed-circuit TV big screens.
“No one will truly know all the circumstances of that night, except them alone. And there’s nothing any of us can do to bring them back,” said Chute. “We realize the speed laws of our state are not here to spoil our fun and adventure, but to protect our families and friends every day. As we grow into the adult world of freedoms, we learn that privileges bring responsibilities and consequences that can leave us and others forever changed.
“We re-examine our painful, confused thoughts and truly realize that only poor choices are to blame. Blaming God, parents, ourselves, the boys, or even age limits for driving are not going to make any of us better, but only bitter,” he added. “Bitterness can only be a cancer, leaving us with no joy, or purpose, or laughter that was such a part of the lives of these boys.”
Friends and family members recalled the goofy humor and dry wit Picken and McPhearson exhibited daily as well as the penchant for pranks they both had.
John Ashman, McPhearson’s uncle, recalled plowing McPhearson’s driveway a few years ago while McPhearson threw snowballs at him. McPhearson asked him whether he was buckled up and reminded him it was the law. After rolling his window down, buckling up, and backing up for one more pass, Ashman was hit by a shovelful of snow just before the shovel went one way and McPhearson went the other, into his house.
Picken’s close friends Kailee Dunton and Gil Cote talked about the freshman’s “goofy little smirk” and love of laughter, camouflage clothing, hunting and racing everything from cars to belt sanders.
“If it could move, R.J. wanted to race it,” said First United Methodist Church of Bangor Pastor Chuck Langbein, whose son Gresley grew up with Picken.
Cote related a story about Picken’s quick wit.
“Everybody probably knows he liked Dale [Earnhardt] Jr., and I like Tony Stewart,” Cote said. “I was teasing him one day and said ‘R.J., I need something to start a fire with. Give me that hat,’ and without a blink of an eye, he grabbed my Stewart hat and said ‘Here, this looks more like trash than that.’”
McPhearson, who lived in Levant, missed most of the past varsity football season because of injury, but still attended every game. His No. 54 home jersey was placed on his coffin, which was covered with team color blue, gold and white flowers by teammates, who marched together from the high school to the church and also did a “pregame cheer” for their fallen teammate.
Close friend Meaghan Sinclair of Hermon spoke a few words about McPhearson and played an audio-video presentation with photos of him and his friends and family accompanied by songs she sang about him.
McPhearson was predeceased by his father, James C. McPhearson Jr., who died of brain cancer in May 2010.
Picken’s dark brown coffin also was topped with primarily orange floral displays, and many of his friends and relatives wore camouflage clothing in his honor.
A slide show with photos from Picken’s early childhood was shown as guests were seated.
In deciding to tackle the controversy surrounding the car accident during the memorial service, Chute quoted a poem titled “If” written by a man whose son died at age 12, then drew upon his own personal family loss to sum up his message.
“I know emotions have been very, very difficult all this week,” Chute said. “As I said in my message, so many times it’s so easy to point the finger of blame.
“About 20 years ago, my brother-in-law was driving a four-wheeler with my 23-year-old sister on back and had an accident, and my sister was killed. And I can share with you that it’s very difficult to forgive, but very necessary.”