By ALAN OLSEN
The Intelligencer and Wheeling News-Register
WHEELING, W.Va. — The strains of spiritual and country music washed over the mouth of Wheeling Creek as the community gathered for a much-needed outpouring of grief in remembrance of 18-year-old Page Gellner.
A candlelight vigil was held late Tuesday near the wooden bridge behind WesBanco Arena that carries Wheeling Heritage Trail over the creek, near the site where Gellner’s body was found four days earlier. Gellner and her boyfriend, 24-year-old Michael Grow, were swept into Browns Run during flash flooding July 23. While Grow was pulled from the water that night and died at a local hospital, it wasn’t until just before midnight Friday that Gellner’s family got the closure they so desperately needed.
During Tuesday’s vigil dozens of Gellner’s relatives, wearing bright shirts emblazoned with “Page’s Family,” greeted friends, strangers, new family and Gellner’s co-workers from Target at The Highlands.
Gellner’s mother, Denise Courtwright, has been busy this week, delivering leftover supplies from the search for Gellner to McMechen, which was hit particularly hard by flooding over the weekend. She said the vigil brought some relief to her family and the community while preparations for Gellner’s funeral are made.
“Everybody needed this. Everybody in the community’s been so amazing,” Courtwright said. “We’re going to have services in a week when her body comes back.
“When her sister gets home on (Aug. 7), we’ll be having services.”
Courtwright was flanked by Will Shaw and Geraldine Plants, who spotted Gellner’s body while keeping watch over Wheeling Creek from the bridge during the heavy rain late Friday that led to another round of flash flooding around the Ohio Valley.
Courtwright said she now considers Shaw and Plants members of the family. The hard times they shared were tempered by spending a solid week together in Triadelphia-based Austin’s Bar and Grille, named after another, young relative of the family, who tragically died at a pool party six years ago.
“She found my baby. My new brother Will went with her, they went down with her. We slept in Austin’s Bar and Grill for a week,” she said. “Austin’s has been our command center.”
Gellner’s stepfather, Larry Courtwright, spoke briefly before the assembled crowd, recounting the events of that night.
“We knew when (the creek) came up Friday night, it would be God only knows how long before we found her,” he said. “When we were at the command center, and the rain started, Will was the first one to step up. Geraldine came up, too. We watched the creek until the waters went down. If it weren’t for these guys, I don’t know how long it would have taken.”
Denise Courtwright said Grow’s family had assisted her family with some charity efforts, such as volunteering to clean up at the Jamboree In The Hills site.
Grow’s former co-worker, Jill Gray, wept as she recalled the fond memories she forged with him working at Cabela’s at The Highlands.
“He was such a great kid. He was crazy, you never knew what to expect with him,” Gray said. “Always doing gymnastics, flipping through the store. Outside on his breaks, he’d be doing back handsprings, doing backflips off the wall and picnic tables, riding shopping carts through the store. … He was so full of life.”
Denise Courtwright added that Xena, the rescue dog that eventually led to the discovery of Page’s body, is to retire. However, her successor, now a puppy, is to be named Page, in honor of Gellner. Xena was brought in to the vigil, where Courtwright spent several minutes cradling the dog after her surprise introduction.
The outpouring of support from the community has been tremendous, Denise Courtwright said, noting they had not wanted for food or company since the search began nearly two weeks ago.
“We never went without someone coming in and becoming a new friend, every day,” she said.
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