PANAMA CITY - Outside Merritt Brown Middle School flags fly at half staff. Inside it's walls, tears stream down the faces of classmates, teachers and friends, as they struggle with their new reality. The loss of 14 year old Nick Hoang.
"It's been sad, really sad, I've had two classes with him and it was really different not seeing him in his seat," said one classmate," said KJ Williams, Hoang's teacher.
Williams' language arts class is one of those rooms with an empty chair. She says her mind has been replaying the same thing over and over since Nick's death.
"I was grading papers, about an hour before I found about his death," said Williams.
The assignment involved student reflections on this Robert Frost poem, entitled "Nothing Gold Can Stay."
Nature's first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf's a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf,
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day
Nothing gold can stay.
"The one thing I wanted student's to get out of it was that all good things come to an end," says Williams.
Nick's analysis was perfect, writing that all things must end. But for the ones who knew Nick best, this end came far too soon.
"We get attached and we love them, often in spite of themselves. So yeah, we are a family, and as a family today we are grieving," said Merritt Brown Principal Charlotte Marshall.
Nick Hoang, born November 16th, 2000. Died May 25th. He was 14 years old.