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Boonsboro students hold vigil for Josh Smith

July 27, 1998

photo: RICHARD T. MEAGHER / staff photographer

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Memorial for JoshBy DAVE McMILLION / Staff Writer

BOONSBORO - It was a ceremony filled with symbolism - all of Joshua Lee Smith's friends remembering him in their own way.

On the stage of the Boonsboro High School auditorium Monday were portraits of Smith, an electric guitar, his letter jacket and his number 17 football jersey draped over a chair.

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Holly Pearson played a slow rap song that reminded her of Smith, who was found dead in a paper recycling bin last week in Rockville, Md.

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Several hundred people who attended the remembrance sobbed and whispered to each other as the song played.

The ceremony ended with a walk to the football field, where the crowd joined hands as Heidi Pongratz released three balloons into the air - one white, one blue, and one shaped like a football.

The brisk evening breeze carried them away quickly as people watched them drift from the school property.

"This is an unusual time and a sad time," Boonsboro High School Principal Helen Becker said in opening the service.

Friends of Smith and adults attended the service Monday evening to remember Smith, described as a likable kid whose antics brought laughs and vivid memories of a student who stood out from his classmates.

He could fool around, nibbling on a dog biscuit or flexing his muscles, or be extremely caring, said those who knew him. He was praised for going to church occasionally, without any nudging from adults.

He was not caught up in material things, and he was not preoccupied with trying to fit in, said Melinda Royer.

"Josh was Josh," said Royer, whose son, Luke Barnette, was good friends with Smith.

"Every memory I have of Josh makes me smile. It was sweet rememberings," said Royer.

"Even if he was aggravating you, you had to love him," Barnette said.

A week ago Monday, an employee of the Georgetown Paper Co. found a decomposed body while sorting through a paper recycling bin, police said. Because of the body's condition, police could not estimate the boy's age or even confirm his race, and had to use dental records to positively indentify the body as Smith's, officials said.

Georgetown Paper Co. officials traced the paper load back to Washington County, and the Washington County Sheriff's office is looking into the possibility that the body at some point was in a bin at the Red Byrd Restaurant, Motel and Banquet Hall in Boonsboro.

Friends said Smith had been partying with friends in the Keedysville area the night of July 17, and that he decided to stay at the Red Byrd Restaurant, where he worked. That was the last time anyone saw him.

Classmates who talked about Smith before going into the auditorium said many are still devastated over his death. They said what makes it especially hard is that the cause of his death is still unknown.

An initial examination of the body revealed no signs of trauma. Investigators are awaiting test results that will show whether Smith was drinking or using drugs.

Nicole Marshall, who used to date Smith, said Smith did not party a lot. "I guess that's why it was a shock to everybody," said Marshall.

"Everybody has just been really upset, taking it very hard. It's just weird," said senior Janet Abrecht.

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