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'How very fragile life can be': Hundreds gather for vigil to remember NDSU students lost in crash

Students light candles
Aaron Colby, a student at Moorhead State Community and Technical College; Isaac Pazdernik, Minnesota State University Moorhead; and Amber Burley of North Dakota State University light candles Thursday at the vigil and memorial service for NDSU freshmen Jordan Playle, Danielle Renninger, Megan Sample and Lauren Peterson, who died Monday in a three-vehicle crash on Interstate 94 just west of Alexandria, Minn. Dave Wallis / The Forum

FARGO -- An empty desk sat before a sea of amethyst, lilac and plum. The single desk represented four lives left unfulfilled and an emptiness still lingering for hundreds of North Dakota State University students and staff.

The crowd donned shades of purple, sprinkled with green and gold, and gathered to honor Jordan Playle, 19, of Otsego, Minn.; Lauren Peterson, 18, of Prior Lake, Minn.; Danielle Renninger, 18, of Excelsior, Minn.; and Megan Sample, 18, of Rogers, Minn., who were killed in a car accident Monday.

More than 800 seats were filled, with people standing across exits and walls, encircling the Memorial Union Ballroom during a memorial service Thursday night.

With the first of the four visitation services and funerals beginning Thursday night in the Twin Cities, most of the young women's close friends and family had already left town to attend the services. But those left behind, many of whom didn't even know the women, gathered on campus to mourn.

Senior Olivia Spencer said students felt they were connected to the women as fellow Bison.

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"At the end of the day, all of us here (at NDSU) come together as a family. It doesn't matter if we were close to them personally, we are all a part of one another," said sophomore Ian Godfry.

Balloons of green, gold and pink were sent to the families of each woman, Keegan Ilenda, president of the Residence Hall Association said.

The memorial service began at 9:02 p.m., three days, five hours and 58 minutes since the Minnesota State Patrol believes the westbound car the women were riding in lost control on Interstate 94 and went through the median into the eastbound lanes, where it was hit broadside by an oncoming vehicle.

Junior David Vining said the time passed since the millisecond on Monday that took four lives has not lessened the somber feel of the campus.

"We're here to remember how very fragile life can be," said NDSU President Dean Bresciani on Thursday.

Playle, Renninger and Sample were suite mates in Sevrinson Hall. Peterson lived in North Weible Hall. Students have left memorials to the women on their dorm room doors and on social networking sites.

Outside the memorial service on Thursday, pictures of the women ran on a video loop. The sea of students and staff filed outside for a silent vigil where many students huddled together, hugging one another as they held white candles under a chilly, cloud-broken sky.

The Rev. Theta Miller, director of the United Campus Ministry, told the NDSU community Thursday night that there would be an empty chair in many classes, reminding the women's classmates of the loss, but the Bison community would get through the tragedy as one.

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Funeral information

Lauren Peterson

The visitation will take place from 4 to 8 p.m. today at Ballard-Sunder Funeral Home in Prior Lake with a Mass and funeral at 11 a.m. Saturday at the Church of St. Michael in Prior Lake.

Danielle Renninger

The funeral will take place today at noon at Mount Calvary Lutheran Church in Excelsior. Visitation will be one hour prior to the service.

Megan Sample

The funeral will take place at 10 a.m. Saturday at Word of Peace Lutheran Church, 21705 129th Ave. N. in Rogers. A visitation will be held from 9 to 10 a.m. Saturday at the church.

Jordan Playle

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The funeral will take place at 10 a.m. today at Northridge Fellowship in Rogers.

Students light candles
Hundreds attend the silent candlelight vigil Thursday night at NDSU. Dave Wallis / The Forum

As the West Fargo editor, Wendy Reuer covers all things West Fargo for The Forum and oversees the production of the weekly Pioneer.
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