Nearly 100 classmates, teachers, administrators and others of packed the Albemarle High School gymnasium Thursday night to mourn the loss and remember the lives of three Albemarle County children.
“This community was so proud of the people they were and were destined to become. We are absolutely devastated at their loss,” Albemarle High teacher Clinton White Jr. told The Daily Progress.
The three siblings — 19-year-old Omar Wade, 16-year-old Marieme Wade and 10-year-old Aicha Wade — were reported missing Aug. 4 while swimming on a camping trip in Rockbridge County. The following morning their bodies were pulled from the Arnold’s Valley area of the James River.
Their uncle, El Hadji Niang, told other media outlets he believes the three did not realize how deep the water was and drowned.
In school, Omar Wade had a passion for science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, studies. He was in White’s robotics and engineering class at Albemarle High. Omar Wade was headed to Old Dominion University to study computer science.
“I had Omar in my very first class teaching at Albemarle. He was the brightest engineering student in the class,” White said. “Many times in class he would finish a project and would start his own before the other kids even had finished the one I had assigned.”
Those who spoke at Thursday’s ceremony praised the respect Omar Wade showed for people around him and the discipline he brought to the tasks before him.
“To get that call that they had left this earth, I was shaking my head. I couldn’t believe it I didn’t want to believe it,” White said. “He always had so much respect. It was always ‘Yes, sir and Yes, ma’am.’ All the kids were like that and it is a reflection of themselves but also of their family.”
Omar Wade’s classmates echoed those remarks.
“He would be the one at the front of the class asking questions and would always understand the topics and try to help other students,” a classmate of Omar Wade told The Daily Progress.
Outside of the classroom, Omar Wade loved anime, chess and taekwondo, according to the people who knew him best. Like his father, he was certified to train students.
Marieme Wade, like her brother, was athletically gifted.
“She was a good basketball and track athlete. She was just going to be a junior and I always remember in summer conditioning her saying ‘Coach I want to learn how to dunk,’” Tony Franklin, Albemarle High track coach, told The Daily Progress. “She could touch the rim. She was definitely good enough and on her way to playing Division 1 basketball. She always brought energy and leadership.”
Marieme Wade never stopped working to better herself.
“She always wanted to get better in whatever she did,” Franklin said. “Her leadership and close relationships with her family and friends were something I admired.”
Friends of the Wade siblings said Aicha Wade’s playful spirit and her own athletic talent made her destined to be a basketball star like her sister.
“Aicha was growing into a beautiful young girl,” a friend of Marieme Wade said. “I will always remember that she was the cutest baby, and I will never forget how great of a hugger she was. Anytime she hugged you, you felt warmth and compassion.”
Aicha Wade was remembered for her broad toothy grin.
“No better way to start or end the day than to have a conversation with Aicha,” former Baker-Butler Elementary School Principal Seth Kennard said. “Every day she had a broad smile on her face and she always made the kids around her better.”
As the family mourns, a fundraiser to support the Wades has been established online. So far, more than $105,000 has been raised to help the family.
“We need to keep shining the light that they brought to this world,” a teammate of Marieme Wade said. “If we can take away only one thing from the lives of Omar, Marieme and Aicha, let it be to continue to radiate positivity, compassion and respect out into the world.”