Mourners gather at trail
As the sun set just beyond a stand of trees Thursday evening, hundreds gathered to say goodbye to two friends along a creekside bridge on the Cady Way Trail.
For best friends Jeremy Stewart, 18, and Nicholas "Nic" Presha, 16, this was the last place they would be seen together, victims of an apparent homicide.
The two had been a popular pair at Winter Park High School, Jeremy's father, James Stewart, said. They were good boys who didn't deserve their fate.
"He had a heart of gold," James Stewart said of his son. "Nobody deserves to die like this."
As he stood in the center of a growing crowd of Winter Park High School students, well-wishers and friends, the grieving father at times brought the group to tears and laughter remembering his son.
He was the boy who loved to hug, who'd snuggle in bed and be teased by his father for his affectionate nature. He'd smile and laugh it off anyway. Gathered around his father, friends laughed and smiled too, remembering happier times.
Those times came to a horrific end when the bodies of the two students were found burning by bicyclists along the Cady Way Trail between Metric Drive and Forsyth Road early Sunday morning.
The pair were victims of an apparent homicide, though Orange County Sheriff's office officials have yet to say why or how. What they have reported is that a suspicious fire at the nearby Sun Bay Apartments nearby may be connected.
Rumors spread quickly through the school, speculating that the murders were drug related, due to an unpaid debt. Those were false, said Alex McHugh, who had known Nic for nine years.
"That's just rumor," he said. "None of it's true. He was a nice kid, just genuine."
Friend Tyler Winters, who had helped organize the vigil, said the pair weren't the type to get into this kind of trouble.
"They were good kids," he said. "They never hurt anyone."
As friends gathered in between prayers, they spoke about coming to terms with what had happened on that early Sunday morning.
"I didn't believe it at first," McHugh said. "I didn't want to."
Trying to lend that relief to the crowd, pastor Joshua Shapiro gathered in the middle of a ring of mourners as he led a prayer and helped the group sing "Amazing Grace" atop the soggy grass along the trail.
"My life was changed by murder," Shapiro said. "I hope to help these kids too. When something good happens from tragedy, it ripples outward."
For James Stewart, it was a moment to ask for answers. Speaking to a throng of news media, he wanted to know what happened to his son and his son's best friend.
"Did he suffer? I don't know. I want to know… so I can have closure."