By Jess Wisloski
The friends and family of Craig Sampson gathered last weekend in a sorrowful ceremony laying the beloved teenager to rest, while still sharing the brightest moments of the spirited man’s life and recalling the joy he brought to every person he met.
Hundreds of mourners filled the main sanctuary at Essex Alliance Church on Saturday, April 30, exactly one week after Sampson succumbed to his injuries from a Massachusetts crash. Sampson, who was 19, was riding in the passenger seat of a BMW driven by his friend, Joseph Castano, that struck a utility pole and trapped both men inside. Both were Williston residents in their second year of college.
The tone was somber inside the church, but a slideshow of images of a happy teenage Craig played on screens on both sides of the altar while music emitted from speakers nearby. Christmas portraits taken posing with his siblings year after year flipped past; Sampson at a farm with a goofy grin and a berry container perched on his head; donned in a silky gown with his mother; perched near a ride at the Great Escape; Sampson in a field, face to the sun, arms outstretched and reaching for the sky.
A white casket sat in front of the church, with colorful Sharpie marker autographs and messages written all over it from friends and family, bidding him farewell.
“There’s nothing easy about why we’re here,” said Pastor Joe Moore, who officiated the 10:30 a.m. service. He thanked attendees — more than 700 people signed the guest book — for the “amazing outpouring of support for this family, and they appreciate that…your handshake and your hug speaks volumes,” he said.
In the front pews, Sampson’s brothers C.J., Nick, Nate, Cole and his sister Kinsley sat together. Near the aisle, his father Craig Sampson II, in a bright red suit coat, sat buckled over, while his partner Chiuho Duval tried to console him. Several times Sampson appeared as if he was collapsing on the floor, and his body heaved with sobs throughout the service.
When Samantha Nalette, Sampson’s mother, spoke, she was joined by her sons. She recalled some of the things that made “Craigie” so unique, from the time he was young and energetic as a bouncing ball. “I learned to patiently listen to him, talking a million miles a minute, and watched him blossom into a young man who had so much to offer to the world,” she said.
“I will miss his text messages with all his emojis. I will miss his beautiful smile, his embrace and his goodbye kisses as he would drive back to Endicott…I will miss him at my graduation from nursing school next month,” she said, and began weeping as she recalled his last-minute calls for her to proofread papers. “I enjoyed the fact that he and I were in college these past two years as we could share on a different kind of level about the school,” she said.
Nalette, at the end of her comments about her son, had one plea to everyone listening: “If this tragedy can help make one person – teen or adult – stop from getting into a vehicle where alcohol has been involved, then my son’s death is not in vain.”
She thanked Champlain Valley Union High School and Endicott College for their support since Sampson’s death, and named two women who waited at the hospital with Sampson’s body after he had been extracted from the car crash. “[They] stayed the whole time with my son, that awful early Saturday morning until I got to the hospital. I will never forget your words, ‘We knew there was a mom driving three and a half hours to see her son that’s no longer alive.’”
Dr. Richard E. Wylie, president of Endicott College, fondly recalled chats with Sampson in his office, and Sampson’s college roommate Ryan Walsh read a short story by a friend about Sampson’s quilted yellow vest that he wore around campus. Walsh then donned the vest over his suit.
And Cole, Sampson’s youngest brother, shared his favorite memory through bouts of tears. “When Craig would come home…he’d always want to play Madden [a football video game] with me,” playing Patriots versus Steelers, he said. “That was the best thing…I’ll always have that memory of him.”
Sampson was buried in Hinesburg Village Cemetery, and a reception followed in Shelburne.
Castano faces criminal charges in Essex County, Mass. for driving under the influence of liquor causing death, speeding, underage drinking and other charges and is due back in court on June 7.