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After a senseless tragedy, a community comes together. Again.

Dustin Dwyer
The tributes and memorials to the nine victims of Tuesday's crash north of Kalamazoo grew among the lush grass as the day wore on

Just before noon, a woman rode past with multicolored carnations pinned to her handlebars. She kneeled briefly at the site on N. Westnedge Ave. north of Kalamazoo where on Tuesday nine people were struck, five of them struck dead, four still recovering from injuries. The woman left her flowers and a note, then moved on without speaking.

Many came to the site to pay their respects Wednesday. Many struggled to find the words to describe what had happened here. But they came anyway. The tributes and memorials grew among the lush grass as the day wore on. 

Meg Zapalowski was one of a group of bicyclists who prepared "ghost bikes" -- stripped down cycles, painted white, one for each of those who died in Tuesday's tragedy. 

"The cycling community in Kalamazoo is not just a community, it's a family," she said. "And that's just how we roll." 

Zapalowski says she learned of the deadly crash from a friend who called her Tuesday night, to make sure she was OK. Her racing team usually rides on Tuesdays, often along the route where the riders were struck. Zapalowski had canceled her ride yesterday. 

Still, she said, the tragedy touched everyone in the community. She knew the victims. Lots of cyclists in Kalamazoo did. 

Their names came out Wednesday afternoon, reported by multiple news outlets in West Michigan. 

Tony Nelson.

Debbie Bradley.

Melissa Fevig-Hughes.

Suzanne Sippel. 

Larry Paulik. 

These five died at the scene Tuesday.

The four injured:

Sheila Jeske.

Paul Runnels.

Paul Gobble.

Jennifer Johnson.

Three of the victims who died went to church together. The Catholic Diocese of Kalamazoo confirmed the loss in a Facebook post:

Our beloved community of Kalamazoo has once again suffered a devastating and shocking loss, and more than ever we are called to draw upon the strength and goodwill of everyone in this caring, vibrant community. Amidst this tragedy, we ask for God’s grace to help us remain strong and to be united in our prayers and support for all as we grieve with one another.
"We seem a little unlucky right now. But I have great faith in my community. And, yeah, we'll weather this too."

There is no connection between Tuesday’s tragedy and the shooting rampage that claimed the lives of six people in the Kalamazoo area on a single night in February. But many people around town couldn’t help but connect the events in their minds.

“This is the thing that I’ve been thinking about – that thing, that first thing,” said Tim Krone, owner of Pedal, a bike shop in Kalamazoo. “We seem a little unlucky right now. But I have great faith in my community. And, yeah, we’ll weather this too.”  

Last night, hundreds of people got on their bikes in Kalamazoo to ride in memory of the victims in Tuesday's crash. And Kalamazoo Strong, the organization that came together to collect donations and help the victims of February's shootings in Kalamazoo, mobilized to do the same for victims of Tuesday's tragedy

Dustin Dwyer reports enterprise and long-form stories from Michigan Public’s West Michigan bureau. He was a fellow in the class of 2018 at the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard. He’s been with Michigan Public since 2004, when he started as an intern in the newsroom.
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