Vigil for University freshman Sarah Channick attracts hundreds of students, Chancellor

By Dan Petrella

More than 500 students filled the intersection of Sixth and Chalmers streets last night, surrounding a makeshift memorial marking the spot where Sarah Channick, 18, was struck and killed by a Champaign-Urbana Mass Transit District bus late Thursday afternoon.

By 8:40, a crowd had already begun to gather on the sidewalk between the Illini Union and the Quad. Members of Gamma Phi Beta, to which Channick belonged, distributed small white candles and pink carnations to those in attendance.

By the time the vigil began, the sidewalk was full and people were forming a semicircle onto the steps on either side of the Union porch. The group was nearly silent.

Andrea Valencia, junior in LAS and president of Gamma Phi Beta, began the vigil by thanking the University community for all the cards, e-mails, flowers and donations that have been sent to the sorority. She also thanked the Panhellenic Council for naming its scholarship for new members in Channick’s honor.

Chancellor Richard Herman then addressed those in attendance, noting that Channick made those around her feel at ease.

“People loved Sarah because she was genuine,” he said.

Herman’s remarks were followed by a short speech by Betsy Johnson, sophomore in FAA and Gamma Phi Beta member, who choked back tears as she read a letter she had written to Channick posthumously.

“It was easier to write a letter than to describe her as someone who once was,” she told the assembled mourners.

Following Johnson’s words, Nate Reichard, senior in ACES and Channick’s resident adviser at Illini Tower, shared a few words and introduced her roommates, who spoke briefly with their arms around each other’s shoulders.

Four members of Gamma Phi Beta then sang a song that the sorority uses during rush for their third invite.

The vigil concluded with a capella group The Other Guys singing a version of the U2 song “MLK.”

The assembled mourners then moved in procession from the south side of the Union down the Quad and to the intersection of Sixth and Chalmers Streets. Wright, Sixth and Chalmers Streets were all blocked off by University police.

Many mourners lingered around the memorial until after 10 p.m.

“When someone is taken so young, there’s always a lot to contemplate, how it happened, why it happened,” said Herman after the vigil. “Obviously we’re greatly concerned about the traffic on campus. We’ve got to do a better job.”

Herman said the University is working with Champaign, Urbana and MTD to bring in someone from the outside to assess campus traffic. The study will look at what has been done elsewhere.

Reichard said that the vigil served as closure for those who knew Channick.

“She really did lead an amazing life and that’s what we need to celebrate,” he said.