A little boy who was kind to everyone. A teenager coming into his own. A town in shock at their deaths in a car crash, driving to school with their father on a clear September Friday.
Gavin Ouellette, 6, and Nicholas Ouellette, 16, were riding to school with their father, Thomas Ouellette, when the family’s Ford drifted into the breakdown lane and hit a tractor-trailer parked there, according to state police. Nicholas and Gavin Ouellette were killed, and Thomas Ouellette was taken to Concord Hospital with serious injuries, which state police said were not life-threatening.
Hundreds of people attended a vigil Friday night at Bow High School’s football field, to show their support of “one of the bedrock families of the community,” as middle school principal Adam Osburn described the Ouellettes. “Legitimately, honestly, wholesomely good people.”
Superintendent Dean Cascadden decided to let the school community know about the students’ deaths around noon Friday.
Word was already spreading at Bow High School of the death of well-liked junior Nick Ouellette, and the injuries of Tom Ouellette, who had just started as the school resource officer in Bow. He had also worked with the Weare Police Department and the Manchester Police Department, where he had served as Central High School’s resource officer.
Cascadden opened the high school football field Friday afternoon to anyone who needed a place to grieve. Bow High School students and much of the town’s youth football community turned out to show their support to the family and mourn the loss of two children.
Taken too soon
When Nick Ouellette came back to Bow High to start his junior year a few weeks ago, principal Brian O’Connell said he noticed the high school junior had started to come into his own over the summer. There was a new confidence to go with the smile that was always on Ouellette’s face.
“He was always smiling,” O’Connell said. “He had lots of friends — a social kid.”
School wasn’t always easy, but he was kind and willing to work hard. “He was a good kid to have in class,” O’Connell said.
“He was ready to have a good year,” O’Connell said. “Things were falling into place for him.”
The loss of a well-liked student shook the whole school, but especially the football team.
“I said to my team today, there’s no processing, or reasoning about why this happened. There’s no wrong way to grieve,” Bow football coach Paul Cohen said. “What’s wrong was a teammate was taken too early.”
Friday’s football game against Hillsboro-Deering/Hopkinton was called off. Ashen-faced football players, wearing their blue and gold jerseys, started gathering in the parking lot. Myles Rheinhardt, a senior, brought several flags for the team to hold as they walked onto the field.
The team and all of Nick Ouellette’s friends will miss him and his one-of-a-kind energy, Rheinhardt said. “He was goofy. He was hilarious.”
Cohen said everyone loved Ouellette, for his work in football, and for his ability to help everyone feel welcome and included.
Eric Davis of Hooksett is an assistant coach in Bow youth football. One of his sons, a 10th-grader, transferred to Bow High School this year.
“Nick was super-supportive of him, looking out for him,” Davis said.
The tight-knit football community took in Davis’ family, and made them part of the “football family.”
“They preached football is family. These are your brothers,” Davis said. “And they practice what they preach.”
On Friday evening, the Bow High School football team took to the field, and gathered in a huddle. “Family!” they shouted, before putting their helmets down on the field.
Gavin was eager to be included in everything his older siblings did.
“The little boy was just a little boy. Everything a 6-year-old should be,” Davis said. “Wanted to be involved in all the games.”
He wasn’t old enough to play football with the Bow Bulldogs, but he tagged along with his father and fifth-grade brother to every practice.
The coaches could always dispatch Gavin to grab another coach or player they needed, without their having to break a huddle. “Get Coach Gavin,” defensive coordinator Jeremy Geiger remembered saying often.
Bow Elementary School Principal Lori Krueger said on Friday morning she pulled aside Gavin Ouellette’s first-grade teacher, as well as the teachers who worked with him in kindergarten and preschool. Other teachers helped cover their classrooms as those teachers took a few minutes to process the loss.
Teachers loved Gavin, she said. “Nice, nice boy,” Krueger said. “He is that nice child, who is nice to everyone.”
School counselors will be on hand to offer support to Gavin’s classmates in first grade, and any other children who need help.
Krueger said elementary school students were not told about the crash during school on Friday.
“In a world of social media, it’s great children 9 and under don’t have phones,” she said. But she saw emotional parents in the pick-up line Friday afternoon, preparing to explain to their children what had happened.
“Everyone’s hugging their kids really tight tonight.”
A GoFundMe page (https://bit.ly/3z3uhT2) set up for the family by Julie Ouellette Barrios described Nicholas and Gavin Ouellette as being “born into the most loving family that a child could imagine.”
“Parents Jen and Tom adore them, and worked hard every day (and double shifts most days), and still managed to coach football,” she wrote. “With Nicholas’ twin sister Hannah and their 10-year-old-brother Dylan, the four children and their parents love each other deeply, love their friends and love their community.”