JUNCTION CITY, Ore. — A week after his first day of school at Oaklea Middle School, Julius Schmidt’s classmates had to deal with their first day without him. A passing train killed the 14-year-old Saturday night.
Outside of his family, many of those dealing with Schmidt’s passing are his fellow classmates at Oaklea. School officials say they’ve been preparing all weekend to help the students and staff through this difficult situation.
The sound of passing trains is common in the town. Over time, residents say it just becomes background noise and unnoticeable. But the death of Julius Schmidt has had the opposite effect. It’s jarring and tragic.
Junction City Police say the 14-year-old and two friends were there paying their respects to another man who died on the tracks two years ago. Afterward, they ran on the tracks playing a sort of game. Julius’s friends jumped off the track in time. He didn’t.
Two days later, there’s a kind of silence lingering over the town, especially on the campus where, just a week ago, Julius started eighth grade.
“On a Monday morning, there’s typically a lot of noise in the classroom, kids talking about their weekend. What we found this morning was a tremendous amount of respect,” said Principal Brian Young.
Administrators say when they heard about what happened to Julius, they knew Monday would be difficult for students.
“Preparation for this tragedy really started on Saturday night…This morning we saw a somberness from the kids. A lot of them knew coming in that it was going to be a different day and week for that matter,” Young said.
Safe spaces were created and grief counselors and even therapy dogs were brought in to help those in need deal with their feelings. While what has happened can’t be changed, Junction City police hope others will learn from this.
“It’s just an opportunity sadly through the tragic death to work with the family, to work with the school. The school’s been excellent as far as getting care, people here and counselors here to identify the dangers of the rail,” said Police Chief Mark Chase.
District officials say Junction City is a small and close-knit town and everyone is working together to make sure that no one has to deal with this tragedy alone.