Silently, hundreds of people left the Franklin Community High School gym, took a blue or white balloon and entered the football stadium.
They were about to say goodbye to Jason Moran one last time.
Filling the crowd were residents who had come to show support for grieving coaches, students and teachers, or to remember a boy they knew from middle school.
They wore blue ribbons pinned on their shirts and dresses. They tied blue and white ribbons to car spoilers and antennas. They’d strung blue and white ribbons between light poles and trees, creating a fluttering web.
They painted their friends’ nicknames on car windows — “Chaddy and J-Mo” — for Moran and his friend, Michael Chadbourne, who died early Wednesday morning. “Fly High Jason and Michael” was scrawled in soap on the rear windows of sport-utility vehicles.
Earlier in the day, during a six-hour calling, people talked about the close group of friends, who called themselves the Goon Squad. The group had lost Moran — one of its jokesters — in the Big Blue River.
Moran drowned after he and three other teens — Chadbourne, 16; Mark Nally, 18; and Trent Crabb, 17 — went over the dam Friday. The teens were trying to get to 16-year-old Sarah McLevish, who was swept over the dam. Moran, Chadbourne and McLevish were all pulled underwater by a strong current at the base of the dam. Rescuers looked for Moran for days before finding him near the dam.
Chadbourne died early Wednesday morning. McLevish has been in critical condition at Indiana University Health Methodist Hospital since Friday afternoon.
Some laughed and told stories about Moran, a friend they saw nearly every day who loved pranks and fun, and others sat quietly and cried. They trickled in slowly at first, but the parking lot around the football field continued to fill as the afternoon went on. By the time the memorial service began Wednesday evening, hundreds of people had arrived.
Moran wasn’t afraid to be naked to make his friends and family laugh, his uncle Chris Moran said. The teen would step out of the shower without clothes on and drop his towel to get the family laughing, he said.
Moran often wore a Speedo swimsuit and ran up to his uncle, offering a hug that Chris Moran turned down.
“I never want to see you in a pair of those again,” Chris Moran recalled telling his nephew.
He also dressed up as a girl once, wearing a strapless dress and makeup just for a laugh, friend Travis Nerding said.
Moran was never afraid to be embarrassed and loved pranks such as pouring water on a sleeping friend’s face, then tossing Bisquick on top and yelling “Pancake time,” friend Whitney Turner said, whose brother Ethan is a member of the close group of friends.
The friends had parties a few times a month, hanging out late into the night, friend Jessica Buker said.
“I miss him. He was so fun,” Buker said.
Just weeks ago, Moran was making up a rap song with his brother Jake, singing, “Yo, your mom’s my mom,” friend Kelsey Devine said. He once threw on a pair of Devine’s shorts to take a dip in her hot tub. She wore the shorts under her dress when she went to say goodbye to her friend Wednesday.
“He was a clown. He loved making people laugh,” Chris Moran said.
The giant smile in every photo inside the high school during the memorial was what you’d find on Moran’s face whenever you saw him, friend Tiffany Taylor said. She had just hung out with Moran a few weeks ago.
She said she remembers laughing hysterically while watching him struggle in the dark with a key and then trying to figure out how to start and drive a golf cart. He just laughed with them the entire time, she said.
Making jokes was one way Moran let people know he cared, his ex-girlfriend Taylor Burger said.
He had a ladybug pillow that he loved to cuddle with, would frequently make Burger pancakes for breakfast and wasn’t shy about showing how much he loved his mom, according to friends and family.
Levi Grider, a close friend of Moran’s and a pallbearer for the funeral, has been quiet since his friend died, mother Rhonda Grider said. Moran and her son would swim together and play Xbox games.
“He just kind of told us what he knew happened, how it went about and just really how he feels lost without his friends,” she said.
Levi’s dad, Kevin Grider, talked the teens into posing for a picture together at Franklin Community High School’s graduation this year when Levi graduated. The boys groaned about it, but the family is glad to have that last picture of them together, Chris Moran said.
Moran’s family chose to host a public memorial service for the students and community. The family will have a private funeral today, uncle Don Burton said.
“In our hearts, he is a hero because he gave his life to save the other two,” Burton said. “He was not actually swimming there. He jumped in to save the other two.”
Speakers at Moran’s hourlong memorial service included Franklin Mayor Joe McGuinness, school board president Darren Thompson and Gov. Mike Pence. The speakers planned to honor Moran’s memory, and the heroic actions of he and his friends when they tried to save McLevish.
“I think in that instant, in that moment, he took that risk,” Grace United Methodist Church senior pastor Andy Kinsey said. “And he certainly gave of himself to that end.”
They also wanted people to remember that while Franklin has rallied around the five teens, hanging ribbons around the city and posting photos on social media, their families and friends will be hurting for a long time.
“The way to honor Jason and Michael is to help them heal,” Thompson said.
Kinsey was asked to open the memorial service with a prayer. Kinsey’s daughter knew Moran, and Kinsey will officiate a private funeral for the family today as well.
“I simply want to share words of comfort with the families, with the young people,” Kinsey said. “I certainly want to recognize the work of the responders, and how they have been instrumental in this. And for the community, to remind us that we can play a part in caring and in supporting each other.”
Kinsey also planned to tell those at the memorial that everyone has a purpose, and it’s important for everyone to look for that purpose and embrace their lives the way Moran did, he said.
Kinsey, Thompson and McGuinness said they were all encouraged, though not surprised, at the way residents in and outside of Franklin have rallied to support Moran, Chadbourne, McLevish and their families.
They also want to be sure that the support and the memories of Moran and his friends don’t slowly start to fade.
Right now emotions and adrenaline are still high from last weekend’s tragedy, they said. It’s important that there’s just as much support and encouragement for people who are hurting weeks and months from now as there is today, Kinsey, Thompson and McGuinness said.
To ensure that happens, the question people need to start answering is what that support and encouragement should look like, Thompson said.
For about 50 members of Franklin’s football team, that means thinking about Moran throughout every practice, before every game and during every tackle. And it means going out of their way to hug Moran’s mother when they see her, Thompson said.
For seniors returning to school this fall, it will mean watching for classmates who knew Moran and taking the time to talk with them when they’re upset, confused or simply need someone to listen, Thompson said.
“Students need to watch out for each other because they’ll talk to each other more than anyone else,” Thompson said. “When someone needs help, either help them or make sure they get the help they need.”
At the end of Wednesday’s memorial, Moran’s friends stood quietly until everyone was in the center of the football stadium. Then, as a gray storm cloud passed overhead, they released their balloons.
Then the crowd cheered and clapped as the balloons disappeared into the overcast sky.