2:40 a.m.—I awoke to the feeling of tears streaming down my face and a heavy heart. A black cloud has settled over Ashburn. In this community 30 miles west of Washington, DC, parents, coaches, teachers and children are mourning the loss of a 14-year-old young woman whose light was snuffed out entirely too soon. Cameron Carter’s death does not fall into the category of “things happen for a reason.” There is no justifiable reason for her passing. Cameron uplifted and touched every person that knew her. Her smile warmed and illuminated every room she entered. Her hugs wrapped around you like your favorite blanket on a frigid night.
For those that wonder why people live “in the middle of nowhere” when they live in Ashburn, the answer for those of us that have built our lives here is so obvious: our children. The children in Ashburn are the heartbeat of this community. They are lifeblood of every square mile. They are the pulse of Ashburn’s veins. Everything that exists in Ashburn, everything that is contemplated—from schools, play arenas, Tae Kwan Do centers and sports fields to shopping centers, health clubs, restaurants and movie theatres—is built with one singular mission in mind: to contribute to the quality of life for its children.
The families that live in Ashburn consider all children “their” children. The friendships and bonds that form between the children here are incredibly strong. There is not a single family in all of Ashburn—whether its Brambleton, Broadlands, Ashburn Village, Ashburn Farm, Belmont, or any other community—that isn’t devastated by the passing of Cameron.
For those of us that were blessed to truly know and love Cameron, the void is indescribable. With many kids, we as parents hold our breaths as we enter the high school years, bracing for a focused, rewarding and challenging time of preparing our children for post-high school life. We worry that they may veer off the right path. We worry about how they will navigate the academic and social pressures of the high school years. With Cameron, those of us that knew her didn’t worry. She just had it all together. She was so grounded. We were looking forward with so much delight to watching her continue to blossom—as a young woman on the athletic fields, in the classroom, in the living rooms of our homes. She embodied every trait parents try to instill in their children: faith, humility, compassion, empathy, inclusiveness, kindness, motivation, a commitment to her community and to helping others.
Cameron was one of Jared’s very best friends—and will continue to be. After returning from the service at Briar Woods High School on Tuesday, Feb. 21, he went to his room and placed the memorial cup with the extinguished flame in between his cherished trophies on his shelf, where he could clearly see it from his bed. Cameron and Jared shared a unique bond because they attended Loudoun Country Day School together for part of elementary school and middle school, and then they both switched for their eighth-grade year to Stone Hill Middle School. This collective transition strengthened their bond and friendship. While they both already had friends at Stone Hill, they relied on each other to adapt to their community. I can remember Cameron hosting a pool party at the beginning of the year with her new friends from Stone Hill. Jared was the only one there that was the bridge between old and new.
The two of them developed a very special friendship, relying on one another for so many aspects of adolescent friendship. They sat together mostly every day at lunch. Each of their daily Twitter feeds were filled with supportive and funny posts from one another. In the last several weeks, Cameron contemplated her high school choices. Jared was so relieved and happy to know she was going to stick with Briar Woods High School. Jared also greatly admires Cameron’s older brother Alex, who is an exceptional athlete and student, and will be attending Stanford University on scholarship in the fall. He looks up to Alex as a role model, as a student who can excel academically, athletically and socially.
Just last week, I visited with Cameron’s parents, Renee and Tom Carter, when I went to pick up Jared late in the afternoon on a brisk Saturday as the sun was setting. We sat in their living room by the fire, joking that the couch in the family room was way too “broken in” from the constant stream of kids to sit in there. Renee and I talked specifically about Jared and Cameron’s friendship, and how special it is, and how she’s always looking out for him … how great it is that they have each other.
I left that afternoon with such a warm feeling in my heart, so grateful that Jared had such substantial friendships and connections with such good kids, from families that share our values. Its times like those and feelings like those that serve as reinforcement—reassurance—that you’re making the right decisions for your kids, and that everything will turn out right.
Parents would walk through fire to protect their kids from hurt or danger. The entire adult community of Ashburn is grieving over Cameron’s death. We are praying with every fiber of our bodies for the Carter family. How do we help our children navigate this? How can we possibly ask them to find peace with this tragedy that should not have happened, when we struggle to find the peace within ourselves?
I ask that all of you pray for the Carter family. Please pray for the children of the Ashburn communities, and the children outside of Ashburn that were a part of Cameron’s life. Please send prayers of peace, love, strength, healing, and understanding for the children, and for the adults too.
We love you Cameron.
May your light continue to shine on us, may your spirit continue to walk with us and may you rest in peace.
[Editor's note: A vigil was held Feb. 21 at Briar Woods High School in honor of Cameron Carter, who passed away Tuesday. Our thoughts are with the family.]