St. Charles says final goodbye to slain twins
All week, St. Charles residents and students draped themselves in blue and purple -- favorite colors of Brittany and Tiffany Coffland, the twins killed by their father.
But on Friday, the community wore black.
Hundreds of people filed into Christ Community Church near St. Charles to take part in the visitation service for Brittany and Tiffany. The 16-year-old sisters, juniors at St. Charles East High School, were shot to death by their father after school one week ago. Randall Coffland also shot his wife, Anjum, in the leg before turning the gun on himself, taking his own life, according to police.
The Coffland family asked media not to cover the services inside the church. But even from outside, the sense of loss was obvious. Mourners arrived, already in tears. They exited, often sharing hugs before they retreated to their cars with heads still bowed in grief.
The scene was similar to what students and staff members at St. Charles East High School have dealt with all week, said District 303 Superintendent Don Schlomann. One tragedy was followed by another, with police finding two teens, one from St. Charles, dead in the back of a car on Thursday.
"It has been a very difficult week for our students and our staff," Schlomann said. "This is not normal. But what is normal is for us to be able to reach out and help our students. There is a special relationship involved in the sharing of grief. That emotion can be funneled in a positive direction. Out of this trying time, we learn new ways to support each other and be a family together."
On the Monday after the murders, school counselors attended to 350 students trying to deal with a variety of emotions. By Thursday, the number of students seeking help dropped to 100, only to rise back to 200 with new word of the death of another classmate.
St. Charles police found the body of Kody Dietrich, also a junior at St. Charles East, in the car Thursday morning. A companion from Racine, Wisconsin, also was found there. Their cause of death has not been determined, but police said an initial investigation did not show evidence of drugs or drug paraphernalia at the scene; there also were no signs of trauma or obvious foul play.
Mayor Ray Rogina attended the Coffland sisters' visitation Friday. He pointed to the various light poles decorated with blue and purple ribbons and a memorial of candles, photo collages and tributes created outside the girls' apartment that's been tended to through the rain and snow as evidence of how residents have united in grief.
"This community has responded so well in terms of expressions of caring and love," he said. "Even if you didn't know the girls, you mourn them because they just left us far too soon. It's been a rough week. But this town will heal."