People & Places

Lakeside memorial service for Christian Kibabu draws hundreds to Burlington’s Oakledge Park

Burlington High School
Members of the Burlington High School soccer team gather for a vigil Wednesday night for Christian Kibabu. Kibabu, 17, drowned Monday afternoon at the Queen City’s Oakledge Park. Photo by Gail Callahan/VTDigger

BURLINGTON- A candle-light memorial service for Christian Kibabu drew at least 150 people Wednesday night to Burlington’s Oakledge Park to remember the Burlington High School rising senior.

Kibabu, 17, from the Democratic Republic of Congo, drowned in Lake Champlain Monday afternoon as he and friends were trying to reach oil platforms nearly 200 feet from the beach.

“Thank you everyone for coming,” said Tanaya Walker, 17, a friend and high school classmate of Kibabu. “We’re going to light candles and share stories about Christian.”

As waves lapped against the sandy beach and a strong wind turned the evening air cool, Walker remembered that Kibabu’s “smile would always light up a room.”

As Walker’s voice choked with emotion, she made way for Kibabu’s Burlington High School soccer teammates who shared the field with him last November when they claimed the state championship title. Julian Segar-Reid pointed to Kibabu’s success on the athletic field as well in the classroom, praising his hard work and dedication. “I want to extend my deepest gratitude to Christian Kibabu.”

Alex Dinklage, another varsity soccer teammate, recalled attending ArtsRiot in Burlington with Kibabu and how quickly he could compose a rhyme and share it with others attending the annual event. Niels Arentzen said he drew inspiration from Kibabu’s love for the sport. “This season we’re going to push ourselves an extra little bit, and dedicate the season to him.” he said.

Candles were distributed to mourners and voices stilled for a moment of silence. The soccer players gathered in a huddle, raising their voices, letting out a loud, deep whoop. As flames were shared from one candle to another, people cupped their hands around the slim white torches to protect the lights. Others embraced and quietly cried. Rida Kori, another friend of Kibabu’s, wore a T-shirt bearing a photograph of the student athlete.

“Can everybody huddle together?” said Walker. “It’ll help block the wind. When you’re ready to say goodbye to Christian, you may blow out your candle.”

Large cards were placed on rocks near the beach’s edge next to packages of colorful markers. Mourners wrote messages of support, sympathy and love on the cards, which were to be given to Kibabu’s family.

A group of Burlington High School teachers stood together at the vigil. Tears streamed down their faces as they hugged students. Principal Tracy Racicot said the community is reeling from Kibabu’s death. “It’s a terrible tragedy,” she said.

Stephanie Mapes came to the vigil with her husband. He coaches sports in the district. “It just hits home as a mom,” she said. “It’s terrible.”

Walker said she was deeply touched by Kibabu’s death, but wanted to reassure those present that Kibabu’s spirit will impact their lives. “We’ll get through this,” she said. “We’ve lost a great person, but we’ll get through this.”

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Gail Callahan

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