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More than 500 at UMaine mourn fraternity brothers killed in plane crash

Gabor Degre | BDN
Gabor Degre | BDN
Hundreds of students and faculty gathered for a memorial service for the three fraternity brothers who were killed in a plane crash on Nov. 16, 2012. The three Lambda Chi Alpha members were David Cheney, Marcelo Rugini and William "BJ" Hannigan.
By Nick McCrea, BDN Staff

ORONO, Maine — Hundreds of mourners memorialized three fraternity brothers who worked tirelessly to better the lives of others during a ceremony Tuesday night at the University of Maine.

Members of the university’s Greek community, students, faculty and school officials filled Hauck Auditorium and its more than 500 seats in honor of Lambda Chi Alpha Fraternity President David Cheney, 22, of Beverly, Mass; education officer Marcelo Rugini, 24, of Muliterno, Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil; and pilot William “BJ” Hannigan, 24, of South Portland, an engineering graduate student and member of the Maine Air National Guard.

The fraternity brothers were killed in a Nov. 16 plane crash after the Cessna 172 they were about to take off in clipped a pickup truck on the runway at Knox County Regional Airport in Owls Head.

“It is uncommon to find someone who drives you to better yourself by their sheer presence,” said Thomas Green, a Lambda Chi Alpha brother who spoke at the service, “but the Beta chapter of Lambda Chi Alpha found three such individuals.”

Green said Cheney, Rugini and Hannigan often made him laugh until he cried — Cheney with his “terrible” stand-up comedy routines and Rugini with his incorrect use of the English language, which he would then try to defend as correct.

Green encouraged his fellow fraternity brothers and students to not be crippled by their grief, but “instead to rise up and realize what these men have left behind.”

Dean of Students Robert Dana also spoke at the event, expressing condolences to the brothers of Lambda Chi Alpha, UMaine students and the victims’ families. Dana credited the fraternity members and how they have reacted to the tragic crash.

“They’ve risen up as leaders in perhaps the most dismal hour of their young lives,” Dana said. He credited the brothers for their decision to go ahead with their work on a food drive despite having learned of the fatal plane crash earlier that same day.

That action reflected the values held by the three lost brothers and was a fitting tribute to them, the dean said.

“They cared about people in the moment, they were not egocentric, they were allocentric,” Dana said.

He encouraged those at the memorial to not try to stifle their grief, but rather to talk about it, write about it, allow themselves to feel it, and seek comfort through each other.

“It means thinking about [your grief], putting your hands on it, and coming to grips with the fact that someone you loved, someone you knew, someone you cared for has left this Earth far too early,” Dana said.

After Dana and Green spoke, the crowd moved outside Fogler Library, where a large outdoor screen displayed a slide show set to music. Memorial attendees held lit tea light candles while pictures flashed on the screen.

Images of the three young crash victims goofing around with friends and fraternity brothers drew chuckles, in spite of many tears, from those who knew the men.

Pictures showed the men in their fraternity house, on tropical beaches, canoeing on the Stillwater River, and in the cockpit of a Cessna.

Also featured in the slide show were several images of a trio of lit candles inside the Lambda Chi Alpha house — a memorial to the fraternity’s three lost members.

In the wake of the crash, other university fraternities followed suit, showing their support for Lambda Chi Alpha by placing trios of candles in their windows, on their lawns or on top of their fraternity signs.

Members of the fraternity declined to be interviewed after the memorial, but Interfraternity Council spokesman Jacky Deng said the event, organized by UMaine’s Interfraternity and Panhellenic councils, was meant to provide some semblance of closure.

“We’re definitely a tight-knit community,” Deng said.

The showing of support for Lambda Chi Alpha from not just other fraternities, but the university as a whole, has shown what those communities are all about — “sense of unity, belonging, family,” Deng said.

Any student affected by this event who would like an opportunity to talk with someone can contact the UMaine Counseling Center at 581-1392. Faculty and staff with similar concerns can contact the Employee Assistance Program at 581-4014.

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