The Grim Reaper entered the computer lab at Southeast Bulloch High School Friday, where Kent Brannen's economic class was being held. The hooded specter selected to students, and left the room with them.
They were dead, ghosts. Emily Austin, coordinator for Communities Mobilizing for a Change on Alcohol, explained to the remaining students that Elizabeth Rigdon and William Young had been struck by a drunk driver celebrating his 21st birthday at a local restaurant.
Young and Rigdon donned black shirts, helped each other paint their faces white, and spent the rest of the day without interacting with others - they were ghosts, not seen, not heard, nonexistent, just like they would be if the tragic accident had really occurred.
The exercise by the Communities Mobilizing for a Change on Alcohol was to promote awareness of how alcohol-related accidents affect people, Austin said.
Students were selected throughout the day to become "ghosts," and the Grim Reaper (Statesboro High School Project Success counselor Joey Fennel) posted "tombstones" on the cafeteria wall as each student "lost their life" to an alcohol-related accident.
The Ghost-out is to "help bring awareness to the dangers of driving under the influence as well as underage drinking," Austin said.
After several students were selected and spent the day as "ghosts," students were treated to a slideshow for the entire school as a memorial for all the students who "died" that day, she said. "This is the first of three Ghost Outs scheduled to take place in Bulloch County for Alcohol Awareness month."
SEB student Natasha Polite, a "ghost" identified by the black shirt and white makeup on her face, was approached by another student who tried talking to her. She ignored him, as if she never heard, and walked away, with him following, still asking questions.
Ghosts were instructed not to interact with others, except other ghosts , Fennel and Austin, and other students were informed that they were not to interact with the ghosts, driving the point home that if these students were really victims of DUI accidents, others would not be able to talk to them again, because they would be dead, Austin said.
As Young and Rigdon were led from c lass, following a hooded Grim Reaper, fellow students were solemn. The gravity of the situation, had it been real, was reflected on the faces of several students who were apparently lost in thought after their classmates "died."
Rigdon and Young, like all other "ghosts," returned to class, but they could not interact with even their teachers. "They're still responsible for class work," Austin said.
The exercise "definitely encourages awareness of people who drink and drive," Young said. "I'd hate to have people in my life missing because of that."
The Ghost-Out "makes me aware of people I know who do stuff like this," Rigdon said. It also makes her realize "how much it hurts my family to know people we know are involved with alcohol."
She said "It's really scary to think about how easily your life can be ended because of somebody else's mistakes."
Drinking and driving can not only cause the driver's death, it can cause the death of innocent people, like the ones portrayed by Rigdon and Young, run over in a restaurant parking lot as they walked to their car.
Young said he hopes the message gets across to others and they will take heed to the message we're sending out. "Hopefully they will think before they drink and get under a wheel."
The black shirts the ghosts wore had white lettering stating "Two out of every five people will be involved in an alcohol related crash in their lifetime."
Polite said she got mixed reactions from fellow students. As she walked down the hall, a student passing her called out "Oh, no, Natasha's dead!"
Some found the exercise funny, but others "think it's for a very good cause," she said. "More people said they would have done this if they had known about the organization (Communities Mobilizing for a Change on Alcohol)."
Austin said the exercise may be held at Statesboro High in the future and Ghost-Outs are slated to be held at Portal High School and Bulloch Academy.