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Culbreth Student's Life Honored with a Violin

Abigail Rice was a seventh grade orchestra student at Culbreth Middle School (CMS) who loved her violin and all things Harry Potter. She was a bright light at the school, especially in her orchestra class. “Abigail was the sweetest girl,” said Corrie Franklin, CMS Orchestra Director. On October 21, Abigail and her mother, Heather Rice, were killed in a head-on car collision in Chatham County, and since then, the Culbreth community has struggled to process and commemorate the life of one of their own.

On Thursday, December 19, a team from ABC 11 News came to CMS to interview Franklin and Ava Gaudet, one of Abigail’s friends, who also plays the violin in the seventh grade orchestra.

Abigail Rice The story of Abigail’s violin has become the narrative thread that provides comfort and tribute in an otherwise tragic, heartbreaking event. The week before the accident, Abigail told her mother and Franklin that her violin was broken. But Abigail couldn’t find the instrument, so Franklin and staff members searched the orchestra room and other classrooms. The Friday before the Rices died, Heather came to the school to try and help find the violin, because Abigail was so eager to be able to play again.

It wasn’t until the following Monday that Franklin found it, pushed behind other violins in a cubby. That night, Franklin learned of the accident. As both Franklin and Gaudet said, the loss was so stunning that for days and days, it seemed unreal. Gaudet said, “Every day I walk into the school, and I’m expecting to see her, and she’s not there.”

But the violin has served as a healing instrument, one that has brought the school closer as they grieved. Abigail Rice violin

A few days after the accident, Abigail’s father brought her little brother Jack, a student at Mary Scroggs Elementary School (MSES), to pick up Abigail’s possessions and meet with the support team at CMS. Jack asked about the violin, saying he hoped it could be fixed so he can begin learning to play, like his sister. But he left with his father that week, for his new life in Nebraska.

School Social Worker, Stefanie Mazva-Cohen, came up with the idea to reconstitute the violin and send it to Jack, and Franklin helped lead the endeavor. The CMS Student Council collected donations, asking for a maximum of $3.00 per person, so that everyone felt they could contribute equally. (The PTSA at Scroggs had already started a GoFundMe drive, now closed because they surpassed the target goal.) The one, two and three dollar donations added up to nearly $400, far more than required to pay for the basic violin repairs.

Franklin took the violin to High Strung Violins and Guitars in Durham, but when the instrument was retrieved, not only had the bridge been repaired, but the pegs were replaced and other upgrades implemented, which significantly improved the quality of the violin. High Strung would not accept payment for any of their work, nor would FedEx charge for the package mailed to Jack in Nebraska on Friday, December 13.

Since the student donations were not needed to pay for the violin repair, Franklin purchased Harry Potter sheet music, a tuner, new bow and strings-- everything Jack might want as he explores a new instrument.

Franklin said, “Not only did we want to honor Abigail by fixing the violin for Jack, but we wanted to honor her mother, whose last request of us was to help locate the violin so she could take it in for repairs.”

Ava Gaudet and other orchestra classmates assisted Franklin as they filled a care package with the violin, accessories, holiday treats and cards for Jack. They hope the gift of his big sister’s violin, newly refurbished and tuned, will provide material comfort during his first holiday season without his sister and mother.

Ava Gaudet plays violin

The family requested memorial gifts to Camp Carefree at 275 Carefree Lane, Stokesdale, NC 27357, a camp for children with medical needs and their siblings.