About 200 students lit candles and shared memories of their classmate Peter Catcho on Friday night, as family members of the Andover junior marveled at the incredible impact their son, brother and nephew had on so many people.
Catcho, a 17-year-old West Bloomfield resident , was honored with a candlelight vigil in front of the Bloomfield Hills high school. The student-organized event brought together students, parents and teachers of varying backgrounds in faith, race and grade levels to share stories and offer each other support.
"You will never see the same thing out of Andover ever again," said Chloe Greenfield, a sophomore. "Nobody goes to games or anything. This is such a big thing that everybody showed up."
Others echoed this sentiment – that Catcho's life and death have changed the way they will live theirs and how life at the Bloomfield Hills school will change as a result.
Drew Herzoff, a junior, told Catcho's parents, "We are like the most spiritless school. When this many people show up to honor such a wonderful kid, I'd like to say to his father, you should be proud to have raised a son like that."
Herzoff talked about how Catcho always helped others before doing things for himself. "He had seven other finals, but still went to Leslie's house to help her study for hers."
Herzoff was referring to Leslie Alter, a sophomore who also spoke on Friday, about a bar mitzvah a month ago when Catcho danced up a storm and told her it was the most fun he'd ever had. "I was happy to be a part of that," she said.
Catcho's sister, Courtney, who graduated from Andover in 2010, spoke, as well as two friends of hers. Kendall Day, one of those graduates, said: "Peter told me the night before he passed that he would always be there for me. And he always will.
"If we could all act a little more like Peter, Andover would be a better place."
At one point, friends pointed out that the moon had come out from behind clouds. Later, on the Candle Lighting For Peter Catcho Facebook page created for the event, one freshman wrote: "When we look at the moon, we will always think of this night."
Catcho's best friend, Sammy Nathan, talked before the event about his friendship with Peter, which goes back to eighth grade: "He’s gone now, but he’s with me. I’m not going to live my life without him," Nathan said. "He came into my life for a reason. He left when he did – I feel he left too soon – but I love him and I always will.”
Nathan said he and Catcho and other friends would hang out together every Friday night, just doing "what teen guys do."
"For the last four or five years, we didn’t miss a Friday," he said. "We always played video games, hung out with friends … we were never bored. If we were bored, we were bored together."
The event Friday was entirely organized by a group of Catcho's friends at Andover. The U.S. flag was lowered to half-staff around 9 p.m. as students began to gather in an area in between the Bloomfield Hills Schools administration building, across the street on Andover Road, and the high school's circular drive. Visitors were given candles in plastic containers donated by a local church and directed to a large, framed photograph of Catcho, decorated nearby by a large rock painted with the words, “RIP Peter.”
As close friends began to offer well-wishes and personal anecdotes, others were asked to fill out forms to describe their favorite memories involving Catcho, to be delivered to the family afterward by student organizers. The testimonies were colorful, often humorous, and helped frame the narrative of a young man who brought was just coming in to his own, socially and physically.
"I had three classes in a row with him last semester. We'd start a conversation in one class and continue it throughout the day. He was the type of person you could tell anything to,” Andover junior Elena Steinhaus said.
Senior Cameron Schwald often spent time with Catcho in Andover’s Learning Resource Center, and the two were in the same gym class. "The day before it happened, he was helping me with my math work,” Schwald said. “He said, ‘I’m going to copy these notes for you.’ He was always helping people. He was so smart. I felt like he was never even doing his own work. … Even the teacher was like, ‘If you need help, go ask Peter.’ ”
The vigil was marked by comments from family around 9:45 p.m., including Catcho’s father, Eddie, and was the subject of a great deal of compliments afterward by family, faculty, community and administration.
“The testimonies you hear here are true, and I think the kids have handled themselves with a lot of class beyond their years and maturity. It’s respectful and quiet, the kids are on task … really trying to lift each other up and respect the family,” Andover Principal Rob Durecka said.
The focus remained on the kind of person Catcho was as the event concluded with tears from approximately 100 students remaining, who continued to offer support to each other past 11 p.m. Durecka said Thursday that Catcho was also involved in the theatre program at Andover, worked for the family business, and was a member of the Future Business Leaders of America.
Nathan said Catcho became serious about weightlifting in his sophomore year and had recently gotten involved in martial arts, specifically jujutsu and Muy Thai.
Isabelle Bode, an Andover sophomore, said that during her freshman year he was just "big, scary Peter" to her, but they became friends this year. "I never thought our whole school would be so supportive," Bode said. "I think from now on things will change. People will be more friendly and approachable in the hallways."
“(Peter) wanted to change the world, and be accepted and loved, which he was," Nathan said, looking around at the crowd gathered to honor his friend. "I think you can tell."
Mass will take place at 10 a.m. Saturday at Holy Name Catholic Church at Harmon and Woodland streets in Birmingham, with interment to follow at Holy Sepulchre Cemetery at 10 Mile and Beech roads in Southfield.
Andover graduate Alex Chudler, now a student at Northwestern University, and Patch Regional Editor Nancy Hanus contributed to this report.