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Walden mourns fallen soldier

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Walden, Vermont - August 24, 2010

News of Tristan Southworth's death traveled fast in the small Northeast Kingdom town of Walden, where his family lived just up the road from the elementary school he used to walk to.

"We're devastated," said Martha Dubuque, the principal of Walden Elementary. "The family is an integral part of the community. They're an absolutely awesome family. We've had the privilege of having all three of their children-- including Tristan-- in the school system... Our hearts go out to them."

At nearby Hazen Union High School where Tristan Southworth graduated in 2007, the halls are lined with championship trophies and plaques-- many that Southworth played a part in. He was a standout athlete in three varsity sports. His basketball coach called him an "exceptional character" who was popular, but always looked out for others. He says Southworth pitched for the Hazen Wildcats and during the team's 2007 run to the state championship Southworth pitched almost every inning.

"Tristan was one of those amazing kids who was well rounded; he was athletic, he was academic, he was caring. He just had all the qualities of an exemplary person," Dubuque said.

It wasn't until high school that his interest in serving his country became clear.

"His picture in the yearbook-- he wore his uniform," said Elaine Laine, the principal of Hazen Union High School. "So he's very proud of his country and we mourn his loss in the community."

A major testament to the impact of this deployment on small towns-- several former Walden students are currently serving in Afghanistan.

"It creates an emptiness," Dubuque said. "It creates a hole that takes a long time to get over. We're all just wondering how we start school off knowing there's this hole in the midst of us."

Faculty at Hazen Union and the entire school district held a moment of silence during their in-service Tuesday. Students will help plan some kind of remembrance ceremony for Southworth after they return to school on Monday.

Alexei Rubenstein - WCAX News

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