The grieving process is still ongoing throughout the Franklin community.

Last summer, after two teens drowned in the Big Blue River and another suffered severe brain damage, supporters gathered together to cry, to pray and to remember.

Blue ribbons were tied to trees, street signs and utility poles throughout the city. Businesses, organizations and individuals all proclaimed they were “Franklin Strong.”

The outpouring of support has become less visible one year later. But it continues, in a different way.

The community has banded together in hopes of bringing something positive from the depths of tragedy. Through the Franklin Strong campaign, people raised more than $73,000 to help the five families involved in the dam accident.

Now that those obligations have been met, efforts have turned toward a scholarship fund created in memory of the two boys who died in the accident, Jason Moran and Michael Chadbourne.

“There’s still a lot of love, like there’s been from the very beginning. It’s been continuous,” said Steve Moran, Jason’s father.

The high school, where all five teenagers involved in the accident were students, has been the epicenter of the outpouring of support.

On the first day of classes last fall, classmates hung two large blue ribbons in the high school. The tribute song written for Moran and Chadbourne, “The Color Blue,” played in the background.

“Coming from a student’s perspective, we had to just get through this year,” said Grace Kinsey, a friend of Moran’s. “The football field was still drenched with ribbons, and when we found out the memorial was at the high school, we knew everything was going to be covered in blue and white.”

Moran and Chadbourne would have graduated from Franklin in May. So at commencement this year, school officials wanted to recognize them in a special way.

Franklin has a tradition of leaving an empty chair for any student not able to be with the class for graduation. A moment of silence was held for those missing students as well, and their names were listed on the back of the program.

That would be done regardless of what happened last year, Principal Doug Harter said.

But during the ceremony, officials presented the two large ribbons that hung in the high school all year, as well as a mortarboard, to the Moran and Chadbourne families.

Many of the graduating seniors wore small “Franklin Strong” symbols on their gown.

“It impacted a huge part of our student body. Our whole community was affected, to the point where the governor came to one of the funerals,” Harter said. “This was a big moment. That’s why it’s important.”

The initial fund was created to help pay for funeral and medical costs, as well as other expenses that stemmed from the tragedy. Car washes, special movie nights and concerts were organized and raised thousands of dollars. T-shirts proclaiming Franklin Strong became a must-have item for children and adults.

More than $73,000 was raised for the families. The final money from the fund will be distributed in the next few weeks, and then the fund will be closed, said Jeff Mercer, executive director of finance for Franklin Community Schools.

But the Franklin Strong effort is carrying on. Attention has now turned to a special account within the Franklin Community Schools scholarship fund.

Supporters are in the process of creating a scholarship in honor of Moran and Chadbourne. The first major fundraiser for the effort, a golf outing, was May 28.

The event was spearheaded by Franklin students Nick Morefield, Chris Eley and Trent Buchanan, who wanted a way to preserve their friends’ memories.

“Something like a scholarship, something that will be around for a long time to remind people what they did, is important,” Morefield said. “We don’t want it to be forgotten, and this is a good way to make sure of that.”

Another fundraiser, a motorcycle ride, is happening today. People have discussed starting a 5K race and other events to add to the fund.

“We don’t want to limit ourselves to this. Let’s give as many scholarships as we can, do as much good as we can,” Morefield said. “We’re definitely going to try to expand it.”

If you go

What: Motorcycle ride and benefit for Franklin Strong

When: Registration for the ride is from 11 to 11:45 a.m., with the ride leaving from Franklin Community High School at noon. Following the ride, participants will meet for lunch, raffles and drawings. Entertainment will be provided by Trigger Happy from 1 to 3 p.m. and Southern Reserve from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m.

Where: Time Out Bar and Grill, 1000 Hurricane St., Franklin

Cost: Cost is $20 per rider, and $10 for each passenger. Each registered motorcycle will receive a T-shirt.

Author photo
Ryan Trares is a reporter for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at or 317-736-2727.