Community mourns tragic death of teens

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By Tia Lynn Ivey

managing editor

High School Sweethearts Michael Christopher Rhodes and Brittany Smith were killed Sunday evening in a fatal car crash on Route 441 in Putnam County, near the Morgan County line. Rhodes, who just turned 18 earlier this month, was set to graduate from Morgan County High School (MCHS) this May. Smith, 19, graduated from MCHS last year and was currently a freshman at the University of North Georgia. Tracey Rhodes, Michael’s mother was driving a Jeep Grand Cherokee, which also carried her other son, Adam, 14. Tracey Rhodes was headed north towards Madison when the car hydroplaned and crossed over the centerline into the south lane of oncoming traffic, colliding head on with a Jeep Compass driven by Kaitlyn Black, 24, of Bethlehem. Tracey, Adam, and Kaitlyn were transported to Athens Regional Hospital. Tracey was reported to be in critical condition. The condition of Adam and Kaitlyn are unknown as of press time on Tuesday, April 25. According to Putnam County officials, the accident is still under investigation.

Michael and Brittany were pronounced dead at the scene. Their loss has sent shock waves of grief through MCHS, as students mourn and share fond memories of the popular couple. Michael was an athlete who played on both the football and wrestling teams. Brittany played on the MCHS Softball team and was also a dancer with the Pointe of Grace Dance Academy.

The MCHS Athletic Department released a statement honoring Michael and Brittany.

“Tonight we join the Smith and Rhodes families in mourning the loss of two outstanding young people. Brittany Smith and Michael Rhodes were wonderful souls who always lifted up those around them. Their bright smiles and genuine, caring natures made everyone around them feel good about themselves. Brittany and Michael- we are all better off for having had you impact our lives.”

MCHS brought in grief counselors Monday, April 24 to assist mourning students throughout the day. Students and faculty also held an informal memorial on campus to honor Michael and Brittany.

“Today our students were surrounded by their teachers, coaches, school system counselors, and community members and clergy as they began mourning the loss of senior Michael Rhodes and 2016 graduate, Brittany Smith,” wrote MCHS Principal Miki Edwards. “Michael was an outstanding young man known as a wonderful teammate to his fellow wrestlers and football players as well as a leader and go getter for FCA. Most importantly, he was a kind, positive, and uplifting young man. He will be sorely missed.

The students of MCHS came together to grieve, remember, pray, and support each other throughout the day – even in the rain. Once again, this school and community have shown that they will come together to celebrate accomplishments and then pull together in times of sorrow. We are grateful that our young people have the One Morgan community.”

“The tragic death of two students, a current senior and recent graduate, is a difficult time for our students, teachers and staff,” said Dr. James Woodard, superintendent of schools. “I appreciate the efforts of our staff to encourage and support our students.  While this is one of the most difficult life events to endure as a school, we are able to use our school crisis management plan to help work through these difficult situations.  Our thoughts, prayers, and support go out to the Rhodes and Smith families.”

A GoFundMe Campaign for Brittany’s funeral expenses launched on Monday, April 24 with a goal of raising $20,000. As of press time on Tuesday, April 25, $14,995 has been donated to the Smith family for funeral costs in just one day by 179 local individuals and organizations.  To donate, visit: www.gofundme.com/brittany-smith-funeral-expenses. The fundraiser was launched by Katie Charette, a friend of the family.

“We grieve for their loss and pray for peace and comfort for the families during this unimaginable time,” wrote Charette. “Brittany was a beautiful and full of life 19-year-old, who loved her family and was very involved at Faith Baptist Church in Madison where her family attends. Brittany loved playing and coaching fast pitch softball…Brittany was loved by many and will be missed greatly.”

John Robbins, coach of the MCHS wrestling team, and his wife Jodi, also started a GoFundMe Campaign for The Rhodes Family.  In just one day, 108 donors have raised $13,735 for the Rhodes Family. “This family has supported Morgan County athletics whole heartedly for many years, and now it’s our turn to support them,” said John and Jodi Robbins in a joint statement. To donate to the The Rhodes Family GoFundMe, visit: www.gofundme.com/rxh5ba-the-rhodes-family. 

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