It’s those moments in between grade school classes that are remembered the most. Not for the paths that students routinely take to get from one class to the other but the people who join them in those brief minutes.
For Saugus High School ROTC cadet Emma Bartel, her in-between moments were filled with laughter and joy thanks to her friend Dominic Michael Blackwell, the 14-year-old student who died one year ago Saturday during the school shooting in which two others died and three were injured.
“We would talk and joke between classes so much that he would pass his class and walk me all the way to mine,” she said during a vigil at Central Park on Nov. 17 last year. “He’d have to walk all the way back to his class but that was just the type of person he was.”
Blackwell, who also had three younger siblings, is best remembered by friends, family and those who have most recently learned about him over the past year, for his “infectious” laughter and energy with everyone he encountered.
“He lived 14 years, inspiring family and friends with his overwhelming kindness, infectious laughter and genuine excitement for life,” said his grandfather Gene Hall during a celebration of life ceremony for Blackwell on Nov. 24. “He gave the best of himself to everyone he knew.”
Saugus sophomore Sami Stadtlander can still picture Blackwell laughing so hard one day during lunchtime that she couldn’t contain her own laughter.
“He was taking off his jacket one day while running from somebody at one of the lunch tables,” she said. “He was trying to take his hoodie off and his whole entire shirt just came off with it and, this kid, he wasn’t even embarrassed. He started laughing at himself … just showing off his goofy side, really.”
The 14-year-old left traces of his character in all that he took on, including in JROTC and football, according to his family and friends. But perhaps one of the most impressive traits was how well he took on the role of the older brother.
“Since Dominic entered this world, he brought love and joy to everyone he’s encountered,” Blackwell’s uncle Chris said during the vigil. “He was quick to assume his role as a big brother. Full of love and a strong sense of duty, Dominic guided his three brothers as best he could.”
It’s about who Blackwell was — a “prime example of caring, love and responsibility” — that his family honored in starting the Dominic Michael Blackwell Foundation.
“Our sweet, innocent, cheerful and loving son was violently taken from our family only 14 weeks into high school, leaving a hole in all of our hearts that can never be filled,” reads a statement by his parents on the foundation’s website. “We could not ask for a better son or big brother to our children.”
The foundation, with a mission to “assist schools in cultivating an inclusive environment throughout all levels of academia,” has provided new laptops to students in their adjustment to distance learning amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Blackwell lives on through the foundation and what it stands for and through the memories still told about him. And with a large “SpongeBob Squarepants” (his favorite cartoon) mural underway at Saugus High, students will remember that infectious laugh during their in-between-class moments.
To learn more about the foundation, visit https://dmbfoundation.org/.