WATERTOWN — The community came together last week to remember the lives of Sterling Jette, Jr., and Della Jette, two teenagers who passed away tragically on Tuesday, December 3. Sterling was 16 years old, a plumbing student at Kaynor Technical School and a member of the school’s soccer team. He loved hanging out with his friends and riding his dirt bike. He was an avid tinkerer, often working on anything that had a motor. Della was 15 years old and an electrical student at Kaynor Technical School. She was on the school’s soccer and basketball teams. She loved to shop with her friends and enjoyed having sleepovers or hanging out.
Immediately after hearing about the tragedy, friends of Sterling and Della set up a makeshift memorial on Main Street in front of EverGreen Lawn and Landscape, the place where Sterling worked.
The memorial expanded as friends and loved ones began to drop off mementos that reminded them of Sterling and Della.
“Everybody liked both of them,” said Esther Campos, a student at Kaynor Tech and friend of the siblings.
Esther and her friends Lorena Xhuti and Melanie Lopez remembered the two at their time at Kaynor Tech. They said Sterling and Della looked up to each other and worked well together, often supporting one another.
Esther, Lorena and Melanie were just some of the students who stopped by the impromptu memorial on Wednesday to pay their respects.
Residents continued to gather near the memorial throughout the day, and by the time the sun set there were more than 100 people consoling each other and trying to make sense of the events that happened the night before. Despite the cold they stood strong.
By the end of the day, friends of Sterling and Della had organized a candlelight vigil for 6 p.m. Friday, December 6 at Veterans Memorial Park.
The school district sent grief counselors to Swift Middle School and Watertown High School to help students and faculty cope with the event.
K-9 First Responders, a nonprofit organization that sends therapy dogs to local communities that have suffered from tragic events, visited WHS during the week.
A GoFundMe account was set up for the siblings’ mother, Danielle Jette, to help pay for the funeral costs. As of Tuesday, December 10, the online charity had raised more than $45,000.
Police officers who responded to the 911 call on Tuesday night had the opportunity to decompress during a debriefing later in the week. The debrief helped officers mentally process the incident and support one another.
Together the town mourned and looked for an outlet to express their grief. Similar scenes played out at Kaynor Tech and in Thomaston, where there was a vigil at Our Savior Lutheran Church, which the Jette family attended.
That outlet for grief came during the night of the vigil when residents poured into the park to show support for the Jette family.
Hot chocolate donated by various businesses kept visitors warm.
First Student donated six buses to shuttle visitors to the vigil. Kaynor Tech also had two buses and six shuttles available to help bring people to the event.
Sterling’s bike and soccer jersey were put on display as a memorial next to Della’s soccer number and personal belongings.
Sterling’s friends recalled that he once said that if anything ever happened to him, for his friends to have all their bikes on display. All of Sterling’s friends’ bikes were lined up, in his honor.
“No matter what, she could put a smile on your face,” said James Bellany, a classmate of Della.
The vigil started late to accommodate the many people who wished to pay their respects. By the time the vigil started an estimated 2,300 people showed up.
As they all crowded onto the snowy soccer field, Tony Gedraitus, the siblings’ great uncle, spoke about Sterling and Della.
“Rarely did you see one without the other,” he said.
Superintendent of Schools Dr. Rydell Harrison offered condolences to the community and expressed gratitude to see so many residents coming out to support the family.
“They will always be remembered at Kaynor,” said Ken Hilliard, principal of Kaynor Tech School. He announced that the school would create sports scholarships in their names.
Reverend Rachel Anderson of Our Savior Lutheran Church offered a prayer and a moment of silence for Sterling and Della.
Family friend Tim Fisher shared memories of both Sterling and Della.
Sterling and Della’s friends Garret Kowalski, Shay Fisher, Antonio Fusco, Tori Guerrera and Jordan Hurley were the last to speak at the vigil.
The shared memories of both Sterling and Della, be it watching the entire “Fast and Furious” movies in one night, going on vacation together or enjoying family style dinners where they would put their phones away and talk.
During the vigil there were tears, embraces, hugs and memories shared. It was a stunning moment in the wake of a tragedy as the town coped with an event it has never experienced before.
The overwhelming response of the community was love as hundreds came together to celebrate the lives of Sterling and Della.