CHESAPEAKE, Va. (WAVY) – Two chairs will be left vacant at Great Bridge High School’s graduation in honor of two seniors involved in a deadly crash.
Katilyn Duffy was killed by a suspected drunk driver in the crash on May 19 and her passenger Sabrina Mundorff was critically injured and remains hospitalized.
The decision follows an unfortunate back and forth between the victim’s parent, students and the school principal to get recognition for Duffy and Mundorff.
Duffy’s family and graduating seniors have been asking for the empty chairs for the two girls at the ceremony, but say they felt push back from the school administration.
Thursday afternoon, WISH-TV’s sister station WAVY and reporter Andy Fox were first to report they received the news they wanted.
Here’s how the story broke: Early Thursday morning, WAVY got word this might happen. Andy Fox made several calls and sent emails to all Chesapeake School Board members and Principal Jeff Johnson. Only a few calls were returned from them and other school sources. WAVY News has learned all school board members were individually polled as to what should be done.
Andy Fox was finally able to confirm the vacant chairs would be allowed early Thursday afternoon. Andy then gathered students and broke the news to them privately, but still had nothing official from Johnson until learning of a letter he was sending home about the chairs.
Had Kaitlyn Duffy not been killed in the crash, she would be sitting next to Olivia Duke at graduation.
“And I think in order to recognize her we need to leave that space vacant because it is still her chair alphabetically,” Duke said.
That will now happen after mounting pressure against Johnson and members of the Chesapeake Public School Board. Vacant chairs will be left in line with other graduating seniors for Duffy and Mundorff.
“As a classmate, it shows we cared about her and if I let it slide, it would be like taking my graduation celebration selfishly,” Duke added.
In the letter home, Johnson writes, “Based on the specific wishes of Sabrina and Kaitlyn’s families, and in an effort to preserve the integrity of the graduation ceremony, we have determined that their chairs will remain empty on the floor with the other graduates.”
Heather Woolridge went to school with Kaitlyn since third grade.
“It’s been really tough… It’s huge, and I have never gone through anything like this before in my life. I’ve lost loved ones from my family, but losing a senior before graduation?” Woolridge said while choking back tears.
“They teach us in school all the time to fight for what we believe in, and stand up for what we want, and now it seems the first time we do it they are scolding us and telling us not to,” Kaitlyn’s close friend Noah Gurley said, referring to the debate over whether to leave chairs empty. “For me and so many others this was just a no-brainer.”
Gurley is upset it took so long to get to this point, but thankful the right thing prevails.
“I just think that is the right thing to do. It shouldn’t even have been up for discussion. It should be what we did from the start.”
Gurley also noted 10 On Your Side’s online poll, showing 98 percent of voters supported empty chairs at graduation.
“I would like to thank all the support from the community and the mayor [Mayor Alan Krasnoff], who reached out and said he wanted this.”
“Kaitlyn had a great work ethic. She had dreams, she had goals and we need to honor that,” Woolridge added. “It is simple to leave her chair open.”
The students would also like to thank Kaitlyn’s parents, who in the midst of unspeakable pain and suffering, were fighting for this to happen. The parents will also pick up the diplomas for both students. When WAVY reached out to Kaitlyn’s mother Tammy Duffy, she text back only this: “WE WON!”