The loud, persistent blare of the BNSF freight train’s horn and the screeching of the behemoth’s steel wheels as it slid to a sudden stop was heard for blocks.
In the silence that followed on the late afternoon of Feb. 9, the first responders and dozens of Wellington residents that made their way trackside found only the horrible and desperately sad aftermath of an almost unimaginable accident.
Laying near the quieted northbound train was the quieted body of 16-year-old Victory Archibald, who was struck by the train shortly before 5 p.m. in the 3600 block of Grant Avenue in Wellington.
“Witnesses to the accident reported that Archibald was walking on the railroad tracks alone and away from the approaching train. She appeared to be distracted by a small electronic device and did not respond to the audible warning signals from the train,” said David Moore, public information officer for the Larimer County Sheriff’s Office.
Dr. Max Wachtel, a Denver-based psychologist, said on Feb. 13 that it’s unavoidable that the most people in town feel that they have a connection to the tragedy — even if they didn’t witness it or don’t know the victim or her family.
“Since the tragedy was close by, it makes the tragedy feel so much more real,” said Wachtel. “Because of that, a lot of people will have a hard time for a while, even for weeks, which is completely normal. Others will deal with the aftermath and move on. For those that are experiencing some post-traumatic stress or depression it’s important to reach out, especially if you’re struggling with depression, isolating yourself or you’re angry, scared or having nightmares over an extended period.”
While Old Town residents struggled to understand the tragic accident in the heart of Wellington, thoughts turned to Archibald’s family, and her current and former schoolmates.
“We’re taking it day-to-day in how the kids are reacting and coping,” said LCSO Deputy Nancy Remington, who is the school resource officer for schools in Wellington. She’s helped students of every age deal with the tragedy. “The schools handled the situation amazingly well. By early Tuesday morning (Feb. 10), Wellington Middle School announced to everyone in class exactly what happened and what the kids should do if they need help. They explained that different people handle grief in different ways, so take care of each other.”
At first light on Feb. 10, counselors from the Poudre School District were at the three Wellington Schools plus Poudre High School and Centennial High School.
“Teachers were prepared before the day started, and both teachers and administrators were taking care of the kids because they know that we’re all in this together,” said Remington.
Richard Cox, communications director for Health District of Northern Larimer County, said it’s important to remember that help in dealing with the tragedy is available to everyone.
“Our community has a capacity to provide swift mental health response if needed. It’s a great system in place to mobilize quickly,” said Cox. “The mental health team of the Health District and Touchstone Health Partners offers immediate crisis assistance and long-term counseling facilitated by counselors that offer a sliding fee scale. The first step is getting help if you need it.”
Anyone needing assistance with coping with this tragedy is encouraged to call the 24/7 Health District/Touchstone Health Partners help line at 970-221-5551. Touchstone’s offices are located at 525 W. Oak St. in Fort Collins.