Finding light in darkness: a community comes together

Friends and the Ellensburg community came together Friday evening to celebrate and remember the lives of Michael Demchuck and Austin McKenzie


Miles King

Handwritten notes rest on tables for both Austin McKenzie and Michael Demchuck. Custom-made camouflage bracelets were available for attendees to take as well.

Miles King, Editor in Chief

Tears were shed, hugs were shared and the campus community came together Friday evening for one purpose: to celebrate and remember the lives of Michael Demchuck and Austin McKenzie, two ROTC students who passed in a tragic firearms accident just two weeks ago.

About 150 community members, friends and family gathered under the covered SURC West Patio at 7 p.m. for the the candlelight vigil.

Originally scheduled to occur on the East Patio by the wildcat statue, the event was moved due to inclement weather.

Attendees were quiet while soft music played as they waited for the evening’s speakers to arrive. A few minutes past the hour, CWU President James Gaudino, ASCWU President Edith Rojas and others walked out the double doors on the SURC west entrance to address the audience.

Miles King
Friends and family of Michael Demchuck and Austin McKenzie gather on the SURC West Patio Friday evening. About 150 people attended the candlelight vigil to remember and celebrate the lives of the deceased.

Gaudino spoke first, followed by Rojas. They both spoke of Demchuck and McKenzie’s bright attitudes and their impact on friends. Rojas called on those grieving to not stand alone.

“Let us come together; you are not alone,” Rojas said. “Together we are stronger; we are the Wildcat family.”

ASCWU Vice President for Facilities and Maintenance Jocelyn Matheny attended Friday’s vigil. She and Demchuck developed a friendship when he would often visit the ASCWU office. Matheny felt that Gaudino and Rojas were supportive of those going through difficult times.

“It was good to kind of just bring people back together,” Matheny said. “I thought it was short, sweet, [and] to the point, but it meant a lot.”

Major Bonnie Kovatch also attended the vigil on Friday evening. She referenced the support the CWU community provided for those grieving. She was grateful for the amount of students who attended the vigil.

Kovatch only recently began teaching in the ROTC program at CWU. However, she recognized Demchuck and McKenzie’s leadership and the respect they earned from younger cadets.

“They were big personalities among their peers,” Kovatch said. “Both really hard workers and committed.”

Miles King
Candles and flowers adorn tables for both Austin McKenzie and Michael Demchuck. Trinkets and personal items were also spread across the tables.

Recruiting Operations Officer Andrew Van Den Hoek recruited the two men to the ROTC program four years ago. Van Den Hoek saw Demchuck and McKenzie grow throughout their time at CWU.

“They had great foundation character qualities,” said Van Den Hoek of the men when they first arrived. “What we were doing was just working with them on other skills and technical skills to help mold them into an officer.”

Van Den Hoek felt the vigil was a wonderful tribute to Demchuck and McKenzie. He was not surprised by the amount of people that were impacted by the loss and showed their support.

“Thats the great thing about Central. It’s a family,” Van Den Hoek said. “It’s a small enough size that we can be mutually supporting.”

According to Van Den Hoek, the amount of phone calls and offers to help after the tragedy was overwhelming.

“It was incredibly touching to see,” Van Den Hoek said. “Everyone trying to come together in the best way that they can to support a group of people that are hurting.”

The Observer would like to publish your most fond memories of Michael and Austin. If you would like to share, please send stories, letters to the editor or any other correspondence to [email protected]