2021 | News

Community gathers to mourn, celebrate Walter Johnson teen who lived fully

Gagné’s many interests include running, baking, knitting, martial arts, hunting

share this

More than 200 people gathered at Glen Echo Park Pavilion on Thursday evening for a memorial ceremony for Camille Gagné.

Photos by Elia Griffin

As the sun set Thursday at the Glen Echo Park Pavilion, more than 200 people gathered to remember and cherish Camille Gagné for the upbeat, curious and witty young woman that she was.

Gagné, 18, of Kensington, was one of two teens who died last week after their vehicle crashed on the way to a cabin/beach vacation in West Virginia, less than a week after graduating from Walter Johnson High School. Jaidon Smith, 18, of Silver Spring, also died.

Two other passengers — Derrick Priester, 18, and Anders Spear, 17 — were also in the vehicle and survived.

By the time Thursday’s service started, there was not enough room under the pavilion for everyone to fit, and the crowd flowed onto the blacktop surrounding the venue.

“I’ve got a wonderful community around me, and that helps more than anyone would imagine,” Sarah Gagné, Camille’s older sister, said during the service.

The Gagnés asked in the memorial flyer for attendees to bring baked goods to the memorial to celebrate Camille’s passion for baking. 

By 7:45 p.m., more than 100 assorted baked goods dropped off by friends, family, classmates and community members covered eight tables and benches.

Cardboard takeaway boxes with Camille’s name on them were given to attendees to fill up with sweets like carrot cake, brownies, lemon squares and homemade cookies.

Rabbi Rachel Ackerman, who led the memorial service, said, “We should be baking with Camille, not eating baked goods in her memory.”

Those who knew Camille said she was the kind of person who dove headfirst into her passions and interests, fixating on a particular hobby or activity until a new one came along. 

Her mother, Anne, said that over the years, Camille took up many hobbies, such as knitting, playing the trumpet and practicing the martial art tae kwon do until she earned her black belt. More recently, she worked with ceramics. 

Running was the activity that Camille stuck to the longest, surprising her family her freshman year by making the varsity cross-country team.

Her father, Pierre, said Camille was his “woods buddy,” always ready to join him on a hike and talk about the plants and wildlife they saw.

When Pierre started deer hunting in recent years, he said, Camille asked if she could join him. Together, they took hunter safety courses — yet another hobby on Camille’s list.

She even briefly took up hair cutting. She gave her father haircuts because his barber shop was closed during the pandemic.

Camille was an avid gardener. She grew eggplants, okra and, more recently, pumpkins that “threatened to fill the entire garden bed,” Pierre said.

He added that Camille picked out a sour cherry tree for their yard. Her reason: sour cherries are the best to bake with.

Camille’s green thumb made her perfect for sharing a houseplant hobby with her sister, Sarah. “I managed to hook you and mom into my hobby,” Sarah said, addressing Camille, “and you had amassed 24 plants,” including ferns, caladiums and succulents.

Tables were lined with cookies, brownies, cupcakes and other assorted desserts on Thursday, to honor Camille Gagné’s interest in baking

Sarah told the crowd at the pavilion how excited she felt to have her sister join her at the University of Maryland. Camille planned to study chemistry there in the fall and had already joined the Art Scholars program. 

Sarah said she told her sister, “I was always just a campus crossing away.”

Anushka Tandon, Camille’s best friend, shared a memory of them studying the night before they were taking an AP United States Government and Politics exam.

Instead of memorizing U.S. Supreme Court cases, they spent the night practicing the best way to do a New Jersey accent.

“Of course, the study session ended in a fit of hushed giggles late at night, and very little studying. Our exam scores don’t need to be mentioned,” Tandon said.

Tandon was joined onstage with a group of her and Camille’s friends, holding hands and leaning on each other for support.

A takeaway box with Camille Gagné’s name on it for friends and family to fill with baked goods.

An overarching phrase that has echoed for those who loved Camille is “Out of order,” Ackerman said.

“We shouldn’t be here,” she said. “We should be out celebrating graduations, shopping for dorm room supplies, hiking over rugged trails, running mile after mile, basking in the warm sunshine.… It’s out of order. Children bury aging parents, not parents their children, not grandparents their grandchildren.”

Camille will be remembered for her fast running, infectious laugh, love for mustard-colored things, and mispronouncing words “as heinously as possible,” Sarah said. 

Pierre always hoped to catch a recording of Camille’s laugh. “The fact that it was so hard to catch,” he said, “makes it even more special.”