Rural Montgomery communities mourn loss of neighbor Michael Poe -- Gazette.Net


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Michael Poe wasn't a public figure or a celebrity.

But you might not have known that seeing the hundreds of mourners from Clarksburg, Boyds and Poolesville who attended his funeral Tuesday.

For the rural communities about 30 miles northwest of D.C., where high school sports take center stage on Friday nights and where houses compete for best holiday lighting schemes, when the community loses one of its own, they mourn together.

That was never more evident this week when hundreds of people gathered to celebrate the life of Poe, 23, who died after falling off a roof in Adams Morgan just after celebrating the new year.

At the funeral on Tuesday, mourners filled the pews and aisles at St. Mary's Church and Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima, a diminutive red church in Barnesville. So many people attended, the church had to simulcast it into a parish hall nearby.

“It's large,” said Woody Hilton, of Hilton Funeral Home, estimating that at least 600 people had attended Poe's viewing on Monday, and that around 400 people were at the funeral.

Poe, of Clarksburg, was celebrating New Year's Eve with friends in Adams Morgan. Poe became separated from his friends and last spoke with them at about 2:30 that morning. His body was discovered late in the evening of Jan. 2 at the bottom of a ventilation shaft after falling off the roof of an apartment building in the 1800 block of Biltmore Street in D.C. Police have ruled out foul play.

“In these days since this terrible thing happened to Michael, we've been challenged,” Father Kevin O'Reilly told the mourners, calling him a “faithful friend and sturdy shelter who will remain with us always,” referring to a passage read earlier in the service.

Two of Poe's friends delivered the eulogy. Flanked by a half dozen of their friends, they recalled the red-haired man's warmth and friendliness.

“We were the three amigos, doing our best to have fun and drive our mothers crazy,” said Matthew Knauss, speaking of Poe and another friend.

O'Reilly called the communal response to the sudden death “tremendous.”

Parishioners held an around-the-clock vigil at the church from Friday until Tuesday's funeral, he said.

“A couple of parishioners came forward and said we should do this,” he said, adding that the vigil has drawn non-Catholics, students from Poolesville High School, and other mourners seeking an outlet for their grief.

“It just really hit all of the moms,” said Monica Garrett, a parishioner at St. Mary's who helped organize the vigil.

“That could have been any of our children, and I would just want people to pray for me,” Garrett said.

“I don't think I'd survive without these people,” said Leslie Poe, Michael's mother.

When Poe's family was first trying to find him, dozens of people from Poolesville and the surrounding area peppered the D.C. area with flyers and searched for him.

At Poolesville High School, where Poe played basketball and golf before graduating in 2007, players from both the girls' and boys' basketball teams held a moment of silence before a Thursday game last week. They were wearing special T-shirts sporting the phrase “Spread your Falcon wings and fly,” and on their left sleeves, the letters MSP, Poe's initials.

“We just came out and we played for him,” said senior guard Collin Turner. “It was a hard loss that the community suffered,” he said. “We just wanted to go out and get this win for him.”

Numerous Facebook pages sprang up, first in response to the initial news that Poe had gone missing, and then to the news of his death.

One, “Remembering Michael Poe,” attracted more than 1,000 likes in the first two days after it was created.

The news caused town officials to consider canceling the Poolesville State of the Town public meeting held Monday, but they ultimately decided to have the meeting, because canceling would set back the town's schedule, Brown said.

Like the basketball game, town officials held a moment of silence at the meeting.

“One falls and we all fall –– that's how it happens here,” Town Commissioner Jim Brown said.

“I'm tired of having these moments of silence and having to put these kids to rest,” he said later.

sjbsmith@gazette.net