Part 1

Written from the porch of Lee Hall— a journal entry about the epic tale of the death of five students. The crows seem to multiply as the days go by. They signal the death of paradise, the ending of great memories, and redefine the "blue ridge spirit". Every fairy tale begins with once upon a time, but what does a murder start with? A lone girl in a cabin in the mountains of North Carolina is how this one starts. No, this isn't your typical teenage horror movie where all of the camp counselors get murdered. It's about a conference that five hundred students attend every year to learn how to debate and write a law. However, I'm getting a head of myself. My story started June 28, 2009 when I attend my last year of CONA.

"Pillow…check. Toothbrush…check. Dress clothes….check. Fun clothes…check. What am I missing?" Maria said checking off her check list and biting on the end of her pen.

"I don't think anything, you've pretty much packed your entire closet," her friend Nicole said looking up from her phone.

"Aren't you the least bit excited?" Maria asked putting another shirt in her suitcase before sitting down on her bed, "I mean it's our last year to go and I'm really going to miss it."

"I'll be excited once we leave. Yes, I know it's our last year and its bitter sweet."

Maria thought back to the previous year. Their group from Ohio was small, but mighty. They had grown together as a group and became a family. It was the best week of her life and one she would never forget.

"Look, you guys need to take this serious! If it doesn't go well we'll be a disgrace to our group," the youth mayor Michelle said to the group who was joking around.

"It'll be fine," Josh said trying to calm her down.

"Michelle always is the overachiever and taking her role to nth degree! I can't stand how she tries to control our every move," Amanda said to Lauren while rolling her eyes. There was tension between the three of them because of an argument that happened at lunch.

"Don't listen to them. It's going to be great," Maria said to Michelle knowing that she was irritated.

"Alright, everyone in formation we are going to go over our devotion, and Travis we'll skip your speech we know it'll be super-fabulous," Erica said demanding the group's attention instantly and Maria gave her a grateful smile. She always knew how to get people to do what they were supposed to do.

The group did as they were told without enthusiasm going through the routine halfheartedly. When the time came to perform their devotion they anxiously waited for Travis to give his speech on responsibility. Travis did not let them down with his speech and afterwards they marched in from two parallel doors. Luke stood in the middle of them and yelled, "Ohio it's time to get down!" Then the group performed their stomp for a group of five hundred peers. At the end hands flew up and spirit fingers flickered the building. When the devotion time was over they had their group meeting. Everyone's spirits were high and they shared what they were feeling. Tears were shed and hugs were given, but they came away with much more. They were unified and they felt the "blue ridge spirit".

"Hello, where did you?" Nicole said waving a hand in front of Maria's face.

"Josh stealing the Texas flag last year," Maria answered with a smile.

"That was hilarious! Do you remember him stealing California's shirt?"

"How could I forget! It's going to be different without him, Amanda, Luke, Michelle, and Lauren," Maria said sighing.

"I know but its CONA and it'll be amazing none of the less."

The five hour plus bus ride with the Kentucky and Missouri delegation to CONA was eventful always. Drama had already started between guys, girls, and the three states. It was worth the long trip once they reached entrance of the Blue Ridge Center.

Maria gave Nicole an excited smile as the Kentucky woman advisor got up to the bus microphone to speak. "Delegates, we have the come to the part of our journey where we take a moment of silence while going up the mountain. Take this time to reflect on what has gotten you to this point and what you're going to achieve," she said and silence fell over the bus.

The twenty minutes of reflection up the mountain brought tears to my eyes. I knew that year would be different, but I didn't know just how different.