More than 1,000 people quietly filed into the bleachers on the Mainland Regional High School football field Wednesday evening to remember 14-year-old freshman soccer player Aisling Cooke, of Linwood.
Cooke died Wednesday morning from injuries suffered in a three-car accident Saturday on Route 40 in Hamilton Township, while on her way to a charity soccer tournament at St. Augustine Prep with four other Mainland students.
Hardly a word was spoken as students and sports team members from both Belhaven Middle School in Linwood and Mainland walked two-by-two to their seats, along with hundreds of parents, teachers and coaches.
“Tonight is a solemn meeting, but we are here to celebrate a very special life,” said Mainland interim Superintendent Robert Previti. He thanked all of the community members who showed support for Aisling and made the vigil possible.
“Aisling on a Saturday summer day was with other girls to ... be a service to others,” Previti said. “Her parents were embracing us today to make sure we were OK. I have never met two greater souls,” he said of Deirdre and Hugh Cooke, of Linwood.
A group of coaches and soccer players presented Deirdre Cooke with Aisling’s soccer jersey, and Mainland Principal Mark Marrone said Aisling’s number 4 will be retired for a time.
“It won’t be worn for four years. She would have played here for that time,” said Marrone, bringing many in the audience to tears.
The candlelight vigil concluded after participants walked from the bleachers to the soccer field, where Marrone led them in a chant, “One family! One School! One Community!”
The Cooke family then held a 7 p.m. rosary service for Aisling at Our Lady of Sorrows Church in Linwood.
Police said the accident happened about 8:30 a.m. Saturday when Nicholas Gareffi, 39, of Vineland, who was traveling east in a Chevy Silverado, crossed the center line of Route 40 into oncoming traffic.
Gareffi’s truck first struck a westbound small truck driven by Darrel Jacobs, 48, of Vineland.
Gareffi then hit the Volkswagen Jetta driven by Madelyn Williscroft, 18, of Linwood, in which Cooke and three other freshmen were passengers. Her car spun out and came to rest in the front yard of a nearby residence.
Cooke was airlifted to the trauma unit at AtlantiCare Regional Medical Center’s Atlantic City campus, where she remained on life support until she died Wednesday morning. The others in the car, all from Linwood, were treated and released by AtlantiCare’s City Campus on Saturday.
An investigation is ongoing, and no summonses have been issued yet.
Previti said police told him Williscroft, a senior soccer player at Mainland, reacted like an experienced driver and her actions likely prevented more casualties.
The school held an assembly Tuesday to help students deal with the accident.
Visitation for Aisling Cooke will be held from 1 to 5:30 p.m. Sunday at Our Lady of Sorrows Church, 724 Maple Ave., Linwood, in the Church Hall; and from 9:30 to 11 a.m. Monday at the church, followed by an 11 a.m. Mass. Burial will be private. Arrangements are being handled by George H. Wimberg Funeral Home.
Staff Writers Steve Hughes and Lynda Cohen contributed to this report.
Contact Michelle Brunetti Post:
@MichelleBPost on Twitter