Vigil commemorates lives of 2 students
ZELIENOPLE — Scores of Seneca Valley students, parents and community members gathered in a semicircle Tuesday evening, honoring two Seneca students who recently died by suicide.
Nearly 100 people attended the candlelight vigil at Zelienople Community Park Amphitheater to remember Nick DeBiase, 16, of Cranberry Township, and Hayden Regal, 15, of Evans City, both Seneca Valley students who died in December.
Braving the cold, the memorialists stood solemnly, holding candles while hearing classmates and friends recount, often tearfully, their cherished memories of Nick and Hayden.
While the two teenagers had different groups of friends and participated in different activities, the more than a dozen friends who spoke described both the same way: Kind, selfless, hard-working, willing to — in some cases quite literally — give the shirt off their back.“I think if those two boys were standing here today, you may look at them and think they couldn't be any more different, just based on their appearance, maybe who their friend group was,” Walter Regal, Hayden's father, said near the memorial's end. “But from what I've heard, I think they were very much the same. Not just in their pain, but in what people shared and what their actions show.”
Carolyn Skillman of Zelienople, who helped organize and emceed the memorial, said the event came about when Jeff Fisher, another Seneca parent, called her and said, “Hey, these kids, they really need to get it out.”Phyllis Fordyce, Hayden's grandmother, said she wanted the memorial to be a place where people could honor and remember the two boys who'd died too soon. Skillman, Fisher and Fordyce all watched as Hayden's and Nick's friends did exactly that.The teenagers' friends took time throughout the roughly 90-minute memorial to tell stories they felt exemplified their friends' personalities.When organizing a blood drive, one student said, Hayden was “very interested” in it because he could help others.Another recalled a time when, on a Boy Scouts backpacking trip, Nick came across a picturesque scene, sat on a rock overlooking the natural scene and meditated.
Even for Seneca students who didn't know either Nick or Hayden well, they were well aware of them due to their reputations of being selfless.“They were both really good kids,” said Sierra Bell, a sophomore at Seneca.Parents, too, had their own reasons for showing up, even if they didn't know Hayden or Nick.“Just being a parent, I wanted to support the parents,” said Christiane Unico, Sierra's mother.With the two having died by suicide, especially in less than a two-week period, students and parents alike also aimed to raise awareness of resources available to help in times of crisis. Several students urged those feeling signs of depression to reach out for help, and they also implored peers to check in on friends, even if they didn't outwardly show any need for help.
Walter Regal encouraged those present to reflect on how Hayden and Nick carried themselves and to live their lives as the two teenagers had.“Your actions, the type of person that you are, the way you speak to people in the street, that's the person that you are,” he said. “There's no place in this world for bullying. ... We all deserve love, we all deserve success, we all deserve to be happy.”He also said he's struggled with mental health throughout his life, adding he sees seeking help as a sign of strength and courage.“I've only recently learned, as an adult, a 40-year-old man, a father, a coach, that's not a weakness,” Walter Regal said. “It's exactly what it says: It's an illness. If you're sick, you go see a doctor and get medicine, if you have the flu. When you need help, that isn't a weakness. It takes strength and courage to ask for help.”