Maryland-National Capital Park Police on Wednesday night said they broke up a crowd of 75 to 100 teens who gathered in Cabin John Local Park for a memorial service — more than the 10-person limit for gatherings imposed by Gov. Larry Hogan’s executive order last week.
Park police wrote on Twitter Wednesday night that they found the group of students, roughly ages 17 to 20, in a park around 9 p.m. The service, they wrote, was for a friend who died.
Park police spokesman Capt. Jeffrey Coe said in an interview that the gathering was at Cabin John Local Park. The group, he said, dispersed voluntarily when the police arrived. Coe had no additional information.
Hogan announced the 10-person limit last week as one of multiple steps to reduce person-to-person interaction and to slow the spread of the coronavirus disease.
In an interview Thursday night, Ava Chambers, a junior at Walt Whitman High School in Bethesda who attended the service, disputed the crowd estimate, saying there were about 20 to 40 people there, many of whom attend Whitman.
Chambers, 17, said the teens knew about the crowd-size limits, but wanted to do something to honor their friend, who died a few days earlier.
“We were kind of sharing memories of her. A lot of people wrote letters to her or about how we’ve been feeling, so we were sharing those,” she said. “It’s been kind of hard with everything going on to grieve. We all want to be there for each other, but when we’re not allowed to be in a big gathering, it’s really hard.”
Earlier this week, Maryland State police, Montgomery County police and other law enforcement agencies told Bethesda Beat that they have occasionally been called to break up gatherings of more than 10 people, such as games of basketball and soccer.
Additionally, a crowd at the cherry blossoms in the Kenwood neighborhood also led to a call to police, but visitors dispersed voluntarily.
When the police showed up at Cabin John Local Park, Chambers said, the group was willing to leave. But some officers, she said, could have shown more sensitivity.
“The police officers were not very compassionate about the situation,” she said.
Chambers said that despite her frustration, she understands the role of police in maintaining the health and safety of the community.
“It’s a tricky situation. We weren’t going to be there for much longer. We wanted to say what we had to say, but obviously they are doing their jobs,” she said.
Chambers said her friends have been keeping in touch by text message and FaceTime while they are at home during the coronavirus outbreak. They plan to hold another vigil when the virus subsides and people are allowed to gather again.
The need for practicing social distancing has been challenging for Chambers and her friends to balance with processing the grief from their friend’s death, she said.
“It’s kind of tricky when there’s all these overwhelming emotions that seem kind of all-encompassing and you don’t really know where to place them,” she said. “Nothing else really matters in the time, so obviously [coronavirus is] a big issue that everyone’s very aware of. This is kind of the main thing that’s eating up all of our attention, and we don’t know what to place first, which is hard.”
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