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Colchester comes together to honor two young men who brightened the lives of others

Colchester — The Colchester community came together to mourn the loss of two young men who brightened the lives of those around them, and to perform acts of kindness in their honor.

Jacob Chapman and Tyler Graham of Colchester, both 18 years old and first-year college students at Western Connecticut State University — they were members of the men's lacrosse team — died Oct. 22 in a car accident on Route 354 by Lake Hayward Road.

Family, friends, teammates and community members filled the pews at St. Andrew Church for the funeral service Saturday morning for Graham, as light came through the stained glass windows. They sang "Amazing Grace" together, wiped away tears and comforted one another as Graham was remembered by Father Richard Breton as a talented sportsman and peacekeeper whose jovial personality would light up the room and make everyone feel welcome.

His uncle, Robert Graham, who gave the eulogy, said the refrain of Tyler's favorite song was "I hope you have the time of your life." His uncle said anyone who spent five minutes in Tyler's presence "knew every day was a celebration of a life lived to its fullest."

"From an early age, Tyler was known for his huge, beaming smile that would light up every room and his ability to see the best in those around him," his uncle said.

In a statement, the Graham family thanked the community: "The outpouring of support from our family and friends has been amazing during this tragic time in our lives. We could not have made it through this last week without the support from our local community as well as from Westconn where Tyler had recently enrolled."

Chapman was remembered in his obituary for living life to the fullest, valuing his family, and bringing a smile to everyone he met. "A lovable and caring son, brother, grandson, nephew, cousin and friend, Jake brought much joy into our lives and will be cherished forever." A celebration of his life will be held from 3 to 7 p.m. on Monday at the Aurora-McCarthy Funeral Home, 167 Old Hartford Road; other services will be private.

Western Connecticut State University men's lacrosse head coach Ryan Cavanagh said in a statement that the "loss is immeasurable, but the love the boys created throughout their eighteen years of life is also immeasurable. We will never forget their smiles, their laughs, their successes, their ambitions, and their love."

While he said there is no playbook that explains how to deal with the loss of two teammates, the team will do its best to "honor their character and commitment by being the best versions of ourselves."

"...when the warmth of the sun shines on our faces, we will know it's Tyler and Jake celebrating the small victories or picking up our chins in the most devastating losses," Cavanagh said. "They will be our brothers forever and we will never forget the moments they shared with us both on and off the field." 

Trey Massaro, 19, also was in the car with Chapman and Graham and "suffered serious injuries but is expected to recover," according to the university.

Both Chapman and Graham had played lacrosse at Bacon Academy, where they led the school to its first Eastern Connecticut Conference, the school's boys lacrosse head coach Brian Martin said.

"Jake inspired the whole team with his work ethic, smile, laugh and ever positive attitude," Martin said in a statement. "I was never more proud of him than I was when he scored the game-winning goal against Fitch in the 2021 ECC semifinal game to send Bacon to its first ECC final."

He said Graham scored 44 goals as a senior and was selected First Team All-State, and "kept all of us laughing with his goofy personality."

People have left dozens of bouquets of flowers, along with sports memorabilia and lacrosse sticks, at a memorial at the accident site, where there are two white crosses and photos of Chapman and Graham.

Bacon Academy Principal Matthew Peel said losing anybody in an accident is tragic and losing any teenager in an accident is even more tragic, but what makes it especially tragic is the two young men brought such positive energy to the world. He said while there are many people who complain or are negative to others, or who look at the world with cynicism, the two Class of 2021 graduates were naturally happy and positive and that's how they treated everyone.

"It's a valuable commodity to have in this world, and they had it and they shared it with everybody," Peel said. "That’s why so many people are hurting right now. That’s just who they were, and people just love to be around people like that."

Jo-Ann Holmes, whose son played lacrosse with them last year, said in addition to being phenomenal lacrosse players, they were outstanding young men.

"Both were kind, funny and great with their teammates, especially the younger ones," she said. "Both of them really just embraced the younger boys on the lacrosse team and took them under their wings."

Colchester community's acts of kindness

Community members have set up GoFundMe pages for the Chapman and Graham families, along with coordinating meal trains and acts of kindness.

Colchester is Kind, a volunteer-based community group, encouraged people to perform an act of kindness Saturday in honor of Chapman and Graham, "who brought so much joy and love into the lives of everyone they knew," said Michelle Noehren, the group's founder. People were encouraged to share those acts of kindness on social media with the hashtags #ForJake and #ForTyler, so that "their families can witness the love and care put into the world on their behalf."

Resident Dawn Seifert — who said Tyler's mother, Dina Graham, has been a kind and supportive friend for years — and Seifert's daughter, Reilly Bassett, who went to school with Chapman and Graham, handed out flowers to people to honor the two young men by brightening people's days.

Liza Sivek said she was planning to leave "free art" for people to take and to pay it forward at a drive-thru. Even though she did not know the families personally, she said she wanted to honor them in whatever way she could.

"I think one of the really great things about Colchester and a smaller town is we have the ability to come together and support people in the community, even if we don't know them," she said. "It helps everyone feel a little less alone, which we could all use."

Chapman's family said in the obituary that donations in his memory can be made to organizations that will enable other youth to enjoy lacrosse like Chapman did: Colchester Youth Lacrosse, P.O. Box 355, Colchester, CT 06415 or colchesterlax.org, or Bacon Academy Boys Lacrosse Team c/o Bacon Academy Athletics, 611 Norwich Ave., Colchester, CT 06415.

Graham’s family said that, in lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the Tyler Graham Foundation, P.O. Box 732, Colchester, CT 06415 or bit.ly/tgfoundation21, "to benefit future generations of lacrosse players."

k.drelich@theday.com

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