Outpouring of support follows local tragedy

Chris Scherzinger's family and friends will remember him as an individual

If you saw him, he might have been reading a fantasy book like 'The Golden Compass,' Starbucks cup in hand, possibly eating a maple bar. His family said he loved hamburgers, liked to play a Star Wars computer game and was talkative and polite. He liked to be outdoors and could often be found playing basketball or soccer or camping and hiking with his Boy Scout Troop.

It was on a hiking trip that Christopher Scherzinger was fatally injured while playing on a log on June 3 at the Eagle Creek Trail in the Columbia Gorge. The 12 year old was a seventh grader at Robert Gray Middle School.

At two services held for him, the community shared memories of a boy who was funny, athletic but not competitive, musical but not always excited about practicing, and caring and concerned about others.

Above all, Christopher will be remembered as an original by his family and friends.

'Christopher was an individual,' his mother Claire Carder said. 'He was never going to get that much attention. He was a non-aggressive, non-traditional boy. These guys have a lot to offer.'

At the formal funeral, Christopher's family spoke - his father Jim Scherzinger, his mother Claire and his two sisters Julia, 18, and Mary, 16.

Claire and Mary spoke about Christopher's signature rattail, the trail of hair that grew down his back and served as a symbol of his individuality and uniqueness.

'It remains his trademark, symbolic of his independence in every way,' Claire said.

Chris only trimmed it once - in the second grade with a pair of school scissors - but soon it grew back to the chagrin of his sisters.

'It was possibly one of the most disgustingly creepy things I have ever seen in my life,' Mary said, claiming she had a desire to cut it off in the middle of the night and sell it to the highest bidder. She had had offers, but was waiting for the right dollar amount before executing her plan.

'As I look back on these things now I know Christopher would never have cut off his rattail. It was him - incredibly odd yet special,' she said.

Julia recalled how her brother would follow her around the house asking questions. She also remembers he was easygoing and honest, enjoyed math and science and was often working on a new hideout in their yard.

'I miss hearing the banging of nails - the sound of you working on building or tearing down one of your famous backyard forts,' she told her brother at his funeral.

Many who remember Chris recall his ability to find new and exciting ways to use a chair.

In a short essay written by Robert Gray students and staff called 'Things I Learned From Chris Scherzinger,' friend Chandler Venables wrote, 'He never sat normally. He was always on his knees or (curled up) in a ball.'

Even his piano teacher had commented that he was always all over the piano bench but then would settle down to play, according to Claire.

Piano wasn't the only instrument he played. Chris also played the coronet, violin and was in the stage band at Gray, though his mother said he preferred to play with the group than do solos.

Comfort from the community

In the time since his death, the family has been able to find some comfort in the support from the community who has brought sympathy and kindness, companionship and love. They have brought food - lots of it - so much that some was donated to the local Loaves and Fishes. They have kept them company and tried to find a way to make them smile - much in the tradition of the boy who was lost.

The Scherzinger family said the support and aid expressed by hundreds of area residents following the death of their son is the definition of community spirit.

Help began immediately. Some boys playing with Chris ran to tell the adults what happened, another stayed at his side. Scout leaders provided CPR. A medical student who happened to be walking on the trail tried to help. An anesthesiologist and his son, an EMT, offered their services, but at that point there was nothing they could do, the family said.

Hood River County Deputy Sheriff Jerry Brown commended the Boy Scout Troop's efforts.

'I think they did a wonderful job and did everything possible to save his life,' he said.

As the news of the tragedy spread, the community rallied its efforts. Robert Gray Principal Willie Poinsette was notified on the evening of the accident and was waiting at the Scherzinger home the next morning when the family returned from church.

By the time school resumed on Monday morning a crisis team of middle school counselors was available for anyone at Robert Gray who needed to talk and a safe room was established for students to have a place to go and grieve. Banners located around the building gave the students a place to share their memories of Chris.

Others helped out how they could. The parent education group Full Esteem Ahead provided refreshments after the evening memorial and the Robert Gray PTA provided food for the luncheon following the funeral. Neighbors also cooked meals so the family wouldn't have to.

'We didn't have to make a dinner for days,' Claire said.

In addition to the voluminous amounts of food, the Scherzingers had a lot of company. Julia and Mary's friends from Wilson High School and their church, St. Pius, stayed with them for days, sleeping over at the family's house.

More than 600 sympathy cards arrived on their doorstep, many from Southwest residents who didn't know Christopher but who wanted to express their sympathy over the loss of a child.

'For children to die - it's unnatural,' Claire said. 'It's outside of the order of life. It hurts everybody.'

Republican Senator Gordon Smith, whose son Garrett committed suicide in 2003, wrote a note to Christopher's father Jim whom Smith knows through Jim's extensive public service career.

'As a father who has buried a son, my heart breaks for you and Claire,' he wrote. 'I am profoundly sorry. As a friend I have no words that can remove the hurt. But hold on. You will smile again.'

Employees from the Southwest Community Center, where Christopher learned to swim and where he was enrolled this summer in a leadership program, sent a sympathy card signed by the entire staff. In a personal note the center's Director Terri Davis said the staff made a contribution to Neighborhood House in Christopher's name. 'The good works of that organization will honor the memory of your son,' Davis wrote.

Others have looked to the family's future and the healing process ahead. The person the Scherzinger's bought their Southwest home from sent gift certificates for the entire family for a yoga session and a colleague of Claire's at the Oregon Department of Transportation is organizing a collection for a bench to be built at the beginning of the Eagle Creek Trail in honor of Christopher.

Claire said the public's response was comforting.

'It was overwhelming and an affirmation of really what a great community we have here in the Southwest and in Oregon in general,' she said.