By Errol Castens | NEMS Daily Journal
OXFORD – Two campuses are mourning the loss of three University of Mississippi freshmen killed in a wreck Sunday morning as they were returning to Oxford to attend church with their fraternity brothers.
Sam Clayton Kelly, 18; Walker Kelly, 19; and Mason Wilbanks, 19, all of Madison, died after the 2009 Infiniti in which they were traveling veered into the median of I-55 at the Vaiden exit and crashed on to Mississippi Highway 35 around 8:30 a.m.
One scene of mourning was at Madison Central High School, where the three had graduated last spring, and where Principal Edith Mitchell said each still had a younger sibling enrolled.
“They were outstanding young men,” she said, noting the two Kellys were not related. “People called them ‘The Three Musketeers.'”
“They had come home to surprise their families, and I was told they left early to get back to Oxford to attend a church service,” Mitchell said. “Each of them comes from a family that’s very close. They were, if you had a son, what you wish your son could be like.”
The three will be remembered together with a joint funeral at 10 a.m. Wednesday at Broadmoor Baptist Church in Madison.
At Ole Miss, a stream of people visited the black-ribboned Kappa Alpha house, where the three were new members not yet initiated. A prayer service was held Sunday night.
“The university is always saddened when we lose even one student, but when we lose three freshmen who were such great young men, it is particularly devastating,” said Dean of Students Thomas “Sparky” Reardon.
“All three men were stand-up guys and outstanding individuals, solid in character, strong in faith and a great asset not only to this Greek organization but also this world,” said Chris Brickell, president of the Ole Miss chapter of Kappa Alpha.
Ole Miss, as with any place with a population of 17,000, has seen its share of tragedy. Just last month Kevser Ermin, a graduate student from Egypt, was killed when a car struck her as she bicycled on Old Sardis Road. Earlier tragedies include the deaths of three Ole Miss students along with three other people in a wreck near Wiggins in December 2005, and three more were killed near Batesville in January 2006. In August 2004, three fraternity brothers died when the Alpha Tau Omega house on campus burned.
“I don’t know that we deal with it any more than anybody else,” Reardon said. “I think part of it with us is that we’re such a connected community of people that there are so many folks touched on campus when we lose even one student.”