2021 | Schools

Parents say their daughter, a new Walter Johnson grad, was ‘bright spirit’ who tried new things

Camille Gagné was one of two teens killed in crash on Wednesday

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Camille Gagné

Photos from Gagné family

Whether it was her love of baking, her fascination with ceramics or her miles of running for the Walter Johnson High School track and cross country teams, Camille Gagné was always willing to try new things.

Her parents, Pierre and Anne, said Camille liked being busy, and spreading her varying interests with friends and community members.

“We want Camille to be remembered as a bright spirit who loved to experiment with different things … and she valued her friendships and was involved with her community,” her mother, Anne, said in an interview Saturday.

Five days after graduating from Walter Johnson High School, Camille, 18, was driving with friends to West Virginia for a cabin/beach vacation trip when she was killed in a vehicle crash on Wednesday. The Hardy County (W.Va.) Sheriff’s Office said the vehicle went off the wet road, through guardrails and over an embankment.

Jaidon Smith, 18, another Walter Johnson grad, also died.

Derrick Priester, 18, of Kensington, and Anders Spear, 17, of Bethesda, were also in the vehicle and survived.

Camille was set to attend the University of Maryland this fall to study chemistry. She had been accepted through the school’s scholars program and planned to continue her interest in ceramics. Her sister Sarah is a senior there.

Camille could often be seen running through her Kensington neighborhood and elsewhere through Montgomery County, Anne and Pierre said. On the track team, she was a runner, but was eager to try out a new event, like the long jump or the shot put. 

Pierre said Camille wasn’t extroverted, but was busy with so many different activities, so she met a lot of people. 

She also was dedicated to the community, volunteering more than 260 hours during her middle and high school years, Anne said.

“What so impressed me is that even though she was on the introverted side, she was so busy. … She couldn’t help but meet people,” Pierre said.

Anne said Camille would often convince others to join her in certain activities, like running or hiking. Anne and Camille were going to hike a 14,000-foot peak in Colorado this summer, in celebration of her high school graduation.

Camille’s love for various things was “infectious,” Anne said.

“She was a thinker, she was an experimenter, she wanted to try new things,” Anne said. “And I hope all young people do that.”

Since Camille’s death, many people have dropped by to express their condolences, Anne and Pierre said. The family is grateful for the support.

They hope to pay it forward to people who have shown up in a time of great need.

“It’s just so sobering that so many people are coming our way and want to help,” Pierre said. “I never call myself an empathetic person, and as a result of Camille going … I, every chance I get, will try to help someone else in pain.”

Memorial services are being planned. A memorial of flowers has been placed in their yard at the University of Maryland sign.

A scholarship fund has been established in Jaidon Smith’s name, which will be given each year during Senior Award Night at Walter Johnson High School. 

“We could not get through this without the community,” Anne said of the outpouring of support. “The Walter Johnson community and our neighborhood community has come out in the strongest way possible, and so we are eternally grateful for this community … people that we don’t know and people that we do have come through for us.”

Steve Bohnel can be reached at steve.bohnel@bethesdamagazine.com