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Teammates of John Anderson organized a candlelight vigil which was attended by more than 100 people last night on the football field. Photo: Jeremy Garretson

Stunned and grieving Riverhead students gather for candlelight vigil in memory of teammate and friend

More than 100 people, mostly high school students, huddled together in the cold on McKillop Memorial Field last night for a candlelight vigil in memory of John Anderson.

They stood in a circle around the glow of candles arranged on the turf to form Anderson’s jersey number, 63.

Some, including Blue Waves head coach Leif Shay, shared memories of “Johnny,” a talented and tough linebacker, a key player and team captain, a generous guy with a ready and winning smile, “a man of character and dignity.”

Some stood in silent reflection on the loss of their teammate, friend and classmate, grief etched on their young faces. Tears flowed freely.

John Anderson on senior day in October. Courtesy photo: Riverhead Blue Waves football

Anderson, 18, a Riverhead High School senior took his own life Sunday afternoon at Reeves Beach, stunning his friends, teammates and the entire school community.  His team members organized last night’s vigil, which was well attended by the wider school community.

“That was our place to go, our outlet place,” recalled former Blue Waves player Bryan Aguilar about Reeves Beach, a town beach on the L.I. Sound. Aguilar, a 2015 graduate, played with Anderson for two years, watching him grow as a player and a man.

“John was a very wonderful person. He had a heart of gold. He always had a smile on his face,” Aguilar said last night. “He was on the right track. He was a natural born leader.”

Aguilar expressed the thought on everyone’s mind: “Why?”

“I want to put a message out there. If you’re going through troubles and dark times, reach out to somebody, please. Talk to a friend, a coach, a teacher, a parent,” Aguilar said, choking back tears. “Reach out.”

Others will be there to help you, Aguilar said.

“It’s been instilled in us since PAL,” he said, recalling the popular youth football league in which he and Anderson both played. “We are a family. We bleed blue all together. Whatever you’re going through, you don’t have to go it alone.”

RiverheadLOCAL photos by Jeremy Garretson

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