For a teacher, there is nothing louder than the sound of an empty desk. Nothing more painful than knowing that one chair will have to be culled from the rest because the student who once kept his supplies readied inside, who grinned into challenges and gave more than he had, would not be coming back.
When classes resumed after the long weekend Tuesday, kids tromped back into classrooms at Wood River Middle School and into a fold of familiarity, but to a setting forever altered with the death of a beloved classmate, Nolan Kreczkowski, 12.
The young man was fatally injured Sunday while out enjoying some turns on snowmobiles with his father, Keith. The pair collided in a hay field near Gannett Road in a freak of timing.
While the elder Kreczkowski recovered from his physical injuries in a Boise hospital midweek and dealt with a future with a harshly rewritten plan, staff at the sixth-grader’s current and former schools scrambled for the script—one that no one really has when confronted with a dreadful event like the loss of a child.
In a small office space down the hall from Nolan’s homeroom, a boy hunkered over a piece of paper and scribbled out his feelings after school Wednesday. When he was through, he would pin it to the wall, adding it to the others hanging all around him.
The messages about Nolan’s life written on whiteboards and scrap paper wallpapered the room. Sitting inside and reading the messages provided an embrace of sorts. Beyond the walls, pretense was lost, and hugs were being offered unchecked throughout the building.
Principal Fritz Peters said the entire process had an organic evolution.
“The response was beautiful and immediate,” he said. “Kids came straight to my office with ideas of how to help raise money for Nolan’s family and for a permanent tribute. It’s incredibly uplifting yet so unbelievably sad.”
Many students were overwhelmed and left before the day’s end.
The school’s on-staff social workers guided the way, and while their script was a launching point, Peters said teachers and students relied on each other in the end.
“The script just stops the rumors and sets the tone,” he said. “Kids don’t know how to respond. We just let them know not to judge someone else’s grief. But it’s complex. You have the kids watching the kid go out and play basketball and they think, ‘He should be crying,’ and then you have the kid that is crying and didn’t really know Nolan. It’s very conflicting for everyone.
“The most important thing is that we encourage the kids to express themselves. You don’t want them to just sit there with their feelings all pent up. You have to help them settle into the situation.”
The little brother to Erica, the only son of Marcie Gutches of Bellevue, was remembered on the walls of teachers, friends and family, all over Facebook as well. Pictures of him playing in leaves with friends, walking in the Relay for Life on the shoulders of his dad, who has medicinally managed leukemia, and stories of his generosity were shared.
A former coach recalled being talked into letting Nolan play T-ball with his sister’s team.
“He was just one of those kids who made coaching baseball fun,” said Scott Manning. “Not because he was a rock star on the field, but because of his heart and his attitude. Nolan was a wonderful boy who touched a lot of hearts. The world is a lesser place without him.”
Lisa Anderson, whose daughter Celeste grew up with Nolan, said Celeste has a pile of stuffed animals that Nolan won in various ventures and insisted she keep.
“He was a prince among princes and will be forever missed,” Anderson wrote.
“People have been absolutely amazing,” said Michelle Kreczkowski, Nolan’s aunt. “The stories they are sharing make him so alive that it just doesn’t seem possible that he’s gone.”
Nolan was a kid who loved his sister, his taekwondo and his books. He recently celebrated his first online purchase with Amazon using a gift card from his grandma.
“He was so excited to get them delivered with his name on them. He loved to read,” Michelle said.
Nolan left a lot of tracks on hearts wherever he went.
“He never walked into a room and didn’t walk out knowing everyone’s name, never left a room without a friend,” Michelle said. “He was just that kind of kid. He had so much to give and he gave unconditionally. He always took kindness to the next level. He gave what he could give, and then some more. That was a quality all his own.”
A celebration of Nolan’s life will be planned in the coming weeks, after Keith is released from the hospital. The sixth grade is hatching ideas for raising funds for the family and the ideas for a future remembrance at the Wood River Middle School will be ironed out.
Though his life ended in an instant, it was clear that the community wasn’t going to let Nolan go, and that they would not abandon each other as they learn how to live without him.