One by one, about a dozen friends of Melissa Marchese stepped up to the microphone Wednesday evening to share stories of their friend at a candlelight vigil at Shoreham-Wading River High School.
From recollections of jokes and superstitions to the times they searched for and found a confidant in their classmate, each of the tales portrayed the everyday life of a genuine teenager.
“Melissa always lived life to the fullest and was always fun to be around,” said SWR parent Anne Marie Anzalone, who led the vigil Wednesday. “You couldn’t hang around her without her giving you a belly laugh.”
More than 200 community members attended the vigil, held on the softball diamond where only weeks earlier the high school senior, who died following a car crash last Thursday, stood out as a top player. Yellow streamers, balloons and ribbons lined the school grounds, greeting students and their families at the entrance and guiding them to the field behind the school.
The name “Mel” was spelled out on the backstop behind the home plate the young catcher once protected — the plate itself serving as a memorial, where candles fought off rain drops to light the way for mourners wishing to pay their respects. Behind the pitcher’s circle, her No. 26 was lit by even more candles, a heart taking shape around it. Ms. Marchese had been expected to attend the University of Hartford as a member of the school’s softball team in the fall.
The 18-year-old’s smile was the feature friends brought up most often Wednesday.
“She could light up a room,” one student said of the Shoreham resident.
“When she smiled, it made everyone around her feel better,” added another.
Several teens shared accounts of struggling to fit in with peers before gaining acceptance among a close-knit group of friends Ms. Marchese stood at the center of.
Recognizing that many more students in attendance might have wanted to speak but couldn’t find the strength to, teachers invited them into the school gym, where they could share stories on a document that will eventually be presented to the Marchese family.
Wednesday’s vigil marked the start of a series of services to memorialize the teen over the next several days.
A wake will be held at Branch Funeral Home in Miller Place from 7 to 9 p.m. Thursday and on Friday from 2 to 5 p.m. and 7 to 9 p.m.
The funeral procession will leave the funeral home at approximately 9:30 a.m. on Saturday and travel to St. Mark’s Church in Shoreham. The funeral service is set for 11 a.m.
Suffolk County police issued an advisory to warn motorists of traffic delays in the area for those days and to find alternate routes.
In her closing remarks Wednesday, Ms. Anzalone reminded everyone that Ms. Marchese’s presence will be felt at her high school graduation next Friday evening, June 28.
“Tomorrow starts the [graduation] rehearsal,” she said. “You all know Melissa will be there. She ain’t missing nothing. She’s always going to be there.”
Top caption: The home plate Melissa Marchese once guarded as a catcher on the Wildcats softball team served as a makeshift memorial Wednesday. (Credit: Grant Parpan)