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Friends, family hold vigil for Colin Qualls

By Charles Young

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Several hundred friends, family members and well-wishers gathered at Riverside High School Monday night for a candlelight vigil to honor the life of Colin Qualls.

Qualls, 16, of Glasgow, was killed late Friday night when the car he was riding in swerved off the road along Hughes Creek Road in Kanawha County. Four other teenagers were hospitalized for minor injuries.

State Police believe alcohol was involved. The driver, identified as Dustin Burkhardt, 18, of London, could face charges of DUI resulting in death and DUI resulting in injury, authorities have said.

The assembled mourners were dressed in the school's colors of purple, black and silver and clutched candles in their hands.

After signing their names to a memorial banner, the attendees filed out onto the school's football field to share a few moments of remembrance.  

Those who knew Qualls, who would have been a junior this school year, remembered him as a kind, caring young man who could make everyone around him laugh.

"He was a happy-go-lucky kid," said Valerie Harper, Riverside High School principal. "He always had a big smile on his face."

Harper said the memorial service was indicative of the school's familial spirit.

"The community is really a close-knit group and everybody knows everybody," she said. "When something bad happens, everybody in the community pulls together. This is a bad day for us."

Jannette Carper, of Columbus, Ohio, was Qualls' cousin. She said she could remember him as a child who loved his siblings and relatives.

Carper said her cousin loved to cook and was always the first one in the kitchen if anyone in the family mentioned they were hungry.

Carper called his death a tragedy and said the incident should serve as a reminder for other teenagers about the dangers of drinking and driving.    

"Let this be a lesson that you don't drink and drive," she said. "Kids think that they're invincible. Maybe this will help to convince someone to be careful."

Christian Roe, 17, of Belle, said he was devastated over Qualls' death. They grew up together and had been close friends since middle school.  

Roe also remembered Qualls as the class clown, as someone who could brighten anyone's day.

"There was never a dull day with him," he said. "No matter what mood you were in, he'd come up and you'd see that goofy smile of his."

Roe said this year has been hard on all Riverside High students. Qualls was the second student in as many months to have died under tragic circumstances.  

"It's one of the worst things that's ever happened here at Riverside, having two deaths in two months," he said.

Roe said he hoped the incident would cause other students to be more careful about their choices.

"I don't care what you do, if you go out and party, just be smart enough to have someone sober come and pick you up," he said. "It's as simple as that, really."

Contact writer Charles Young at or 304-348-1796.


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