Troops hold community vigil for victims of Wisconsin Christmas parade tragedy

After a tragedy, members of a community unite to mourn and begin to heal. As Scouts and Scouters committed to serving our communities, we can help.

On Nov. 23, just two days after a man drove his SUV into a Christmas parade crowd in Waukesha, Wis., killing six and inuring more than 60, local Scouts held a candlelight vigil to remember the victims, pray for the hospitalized and thank first responders.

“During times of tragedy, it’s important to be in touch with our friends, family and Scouting family,” says James Kieso, Scoutmaster of Troop 159 in Waukesha, part of the Potawatomi Area Council. “We must share our love for each other.”

Boys Troop 159 and girls Troop 159 each meet about a mile from the site of the fatal crash. Scouts and families from those troops were joined at the vigil by Scouts and families from Pack 59, Troop 63 and Ship 2.

About 31 people gathered to sing songs like “Amazing Grace” and “Jesus Loves Me” and hear messages of hope and healing from local faith leaders.

“We raised our candles in memory of the six who died and their families,” Kieso says. “It was our way to honor the 12th point of the Scout Law: a Scout is reverent.”

Some of the Scouts didn’t just want to help others heal; some needed healing themselves. Kieso says some of his Scouts are in their school’s marching band and had just finished their performance in the parade before the deadly crash.

“With this tragedy, the whole community hurts,” Kieso says. “And with the holidays upon us all, the hurt multiplies.”

Planning the vigil

Steven Kocovsky, assistant Scoutmaster of boys Troop 159, helped Kieso plan the event. Most Troop 159 activities are planned entirely by the Scouts, but the timing and sensitive nature of this one required more adult involvement.

“We adult leaders knew that our youth would be unable to fully process this tragedy,” Kocovsky says. “We provided this opportunity on the spur of the moment so that our Scouts could heal.”

On the night of the crash, adults in Troop 159 sent word to Scouts and their families of the upcoming vigil fire bowl ceremony, to be held at St. Mary’s Catholic Parish, the troop’s meeting site.

“We asked them to prepare any prayers and heartfelt messages to share around the vigil fire in two days’ time,” Kocovsky says. “They were allowed an opportunity to be consoled and to console one another.”

On the night of the event, emotions were mixed. Some Scouts were sad and quiet. Others were angry and frustrated and full of questions.

“We shared our thoughts and prayers with each other,” Kocovsky says. “A true sense of Scout and community bonding took place. We felt loved and cared for.”

While Kocovsky hopes that no other Scout family has to deal with such a tragedy, he did share some lessons learned from planning an event focused on healing after heartbreak.

He says to have a plan that addresses the physical, social and emotional needs of the Scouts, their families and the community. And to plan a safe place and time to meet, communicating all details clearly.

The importance of Scouting

The candlelight vigil was hardly the first time that the community of Waukesha heard from local Scouts. They see them everywhere — at Scouting for Food events, fish fries, church festivals, Eagle Scout service projects and “anywhere else our Scouts and families can participate,” Kieso says.

After the crash, it only felt natural for the Scouts to make their presence known yet again.

“When someone feels the need, others may too, though we may be afraid or embarrassed to say something,” Kieso says. “Like planting a seed, with careful nurturing, it will grow and multiply.”

About Bryan Wendell 3241 Articles
Bryan Wendell, an Eagle Scout, is the founder of Bryan on Scouting and a contributing writer.