New memorial goes up where teen overdose victim was found

Friday, August 24, 2018 - 13:43
  • Stephen Peyton, top, works on a new memorial area on St. John Orthodox Cathedral property alongside South Birchwood Loop as his father, Charley, looks on. The new bench will will be dedicated to Zac Schneider, a 19-year-old whose body was found at the site in 2017. (Star photo by Matt Tunseth)
  • Stephen Peyton, top, works on a new memorial area that will be dedicated to Zac Schneider, a 19-year-old whose body was found at the site in 2017. (Star photo by Matt Tunseth)
  • In June, a wooden cross marked the spot where Zac Schneider’s body was discovered in May of 2017. A permanent memorial is being built on the site by the St. John Orthodox Cathedral. (Star file photo/Matt Tunseth)

What was once the scene of heartbreak is being transformed into a place for healing.

A new memorial bench is being built on the St. John Orthodox Cathedral property near South Birchwood Loop where the body of a 19-year-old overdose victim was dumped in 2017.

“I think it’s pretty cool a place that was once known as somewhere kids used to drive down and get high is now going to be a spot of reflection and hope,” said Alaina Thiessen, whose son, Zac Schneider, was found lying dead on the ground on May 16, 2017.

The site alongside the road has been used as an informal memorial for Schneider since his death, but the land is owned by the church. Father Marc Dunaway said the church decided it would be good to create a simple bench and pavillion on the site where people could go for reflection.

“The parish council began to think if we build a bench this summer, maybe we should build it there,” as a memorial to Schneider, he said.

The church reached out to Thiessen to see if she’d be interested in a church-sponsored memorial.

“She was very receptive to the idea,” Dunaway said.

He said the project is part of an ongoing effort by the church to make the gravel roadside pullout less attractive to people who are up to no good. In addition to the memorial, the church has also installed a new gate that blocks off a short dead-end road that was blocked from view from the main road.

“It goes kind of far back and people have been pulling in there and doing things they shouldn’t be doing,” Dunaway said.

The new memorial — which includes a concrete pad, a simple iron bench and a small wooden pavilion — was built by the church’s youth corps, a group of about a half-dozen teens who do maintenance and odd jobs around the church during the summer. Youth corps leader Stephen Peyton said the program is a great way for young people to learn job skills while also helping out the church.

“It’s just a really good first job opportunity for these guys, they learn about work ethic and about working as a team,” said Peyton, a 2017 Eagle River High grad and current engineering student at the Colorado School of Mines. “And the church gets a lot of grunt work done.”

A ceremony to dedicate the new bench will be held later this year. The memorial will be combined with a small plaque, and Thiessen said she’d like to include information about how to overcome drug addiction. A recovering addict herself, Thiessen said she’s hopeful the site can be a place where people learn firsthand about the dangers of doing drugs.

“That’s what Zac would have wanted,” she said.

When Schneider’s body was found, police said no foul play was suspected. However, in January two men — Michael Davison, 20, and Toby James Gause, 27 — were charged with tampering with evidence for allegedly dumping his body alongside the road.

But the fact nobody called police to try and help her son still haunts Thiessen.

“My son deserved better than a ditch,” she said.

However, Thiessen said her hope for the people who were with her son when he died is that they get help.

“My wish and my desire is they get their life straight,” she said. “That’s my wish, that at least what has happened will affect someone in a positive way to make them stop doing that stuff.”

A date has not been set for a memorial dedication, but Thiessen said she’s already been touched by the outpouring of support for her son.

“It’s cool how the community has come together to become more involved in this,” she said.

Email Star editor Matt Tunseth at [email protected]

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