Brusly High student composes song to honor teens killed in crash on New Year’s Eve

BRUSLY – When Brusly High teens Maggie Dunn and Caroline Gill were killed in a crash during a police chase on New Year’s Eve, it rocked the entire community.

There were many ways people chose to grieve, cope and process information, but for one Brusly High School student John Foster Benoit, his way to deal with it all and express his feelings was through his God-given musical talent.

Days after the tragic accident, Benoit said he sat near the water at his family’s camp roughly 40 minutes away from Brusly at Bayou Pigeon and wrote a song titled “Tell That Angel I Love Her” dedicated to the two girls.

He said he was friends with both girls. He was in the same grade as Dunn and they had a really close friendship. He said shared multiple classes with her this year,

“I found out the day it happened,” Benoit explained. “I grabbed my guitar and I came down to the pier on the bayou and that’s when I wrote the first verse and first chorus of the song and put some music to it. The first lyrics are ‘no words can describe how I truly feel but I hope these will try.’ As I tried to sit down and write about how I felt, I couldn’t. I really didn’t have anything to say about it.”

The 16-year-old said the inability to think of what to say inspired the song’s chorus.

“It turned into Tell That Angel I Love Her because there wasn’t much to say except I love you,” he said. “That’s really all you could do.”

Benoit said he received his first guitar at 15 years old in July 2021. He didn’t start learning how to play until about a month later.

Sixteen months after he started learning to play guitar, he posted ‘Tell That Angel I Love Her” on YouTube, which has 21,000 views.

“My uncle Gaylen Martin is a local musician,” Benoit said. “I never took any kind of classes or anything like that. One day he sat down and taught me the chords to ‘Take Me Home Country Roads.’ I learned those chords, kind of picked up the speed a little bit and eventually, I just took the reins. I have a strong English background. I guess I’ve always had a way with words. Music is when I feel most myself, so I guess considering my English background, and considering how much I fell in love with it, it became relatively easy. Once I found music, I found it. I give my entire talent to God. There’s no possible way I could have done this without him.”

Benoit said he had not lost anyone close to him until last Christmas Day. After losing that person, six days later, he had to suffer another tragic loss.

“This whole thing, I would describe it as a weird experience because I had never lost someone before,” he said. “Losing three people in the span of a week was something that I had never prepared for.”

He said with the accident occurring over the holiday break, he didn’t have a chance to connect with Dunn or Gill so that made the loss even more difficult.

“We got out on the 17th (December) I think and they passed away on the 31st,” Benoit recalled. “The last text I sent her (Maggie Dunn) was just fluff. Nothing deep. Never got a goodbye. I was at Bayou Pigeon when it all happened. I never saw the scene. I never saw anything. It really wasn’t concrete for me until I actually saw the casket and stuff and that’s when I broke down.”

He described the day he saw everyone from school at Sunday mass in Brusly the day after the accident.

“We all got out of the church and started crying in front of the church because that was the first time we had seen everybody,” he said. “There was a vigil that Monday and that was the first time I had seen her (Dunn) parents since it happened. I’m not a crier, but I broke down in front of everybody.

“Going into the halls (school) every day and her (Dunn) not being there in all the classes we took together,” he added. “Our lunch table still has their seats open. No one would ever dare to sit in them. All of their desks are still open. In every class that we were in, we sat next to each other if we had seat a choice. Every class was just a reminder of what happened seeing that desk empty. That was hard but I think as a community and as a friend group, we’ve made serious strides.”

Four months later, Benoit admits things aren’t back to normal but everyone is in a state of coping. He said laughter has returned in the classroom where that wasn’t the case a few months ago.

In a surprise to the young musician, his mother Amanda Benoit, partnered with Brusly teacher and prom organizer Leslie Kleinpeter for Benoit to perform his song at the prom on March 25.

“They arranged it to where my mom brought my guitar into the room,” he recalled. “Ms. Kleinpeter came about an hour or so into prom and was like ‘Hey, your guitar is here. If you are comfortable, we would like you to sing your song.’ At the very end of the night, they call me up and I got on stage with my guitar. I got Abby Rizer, who is one of my best friends but who was like Maggie’s soulmate. Abby was one of the closest if not the closest person in the world to Maggie.

“Abby held the mic for me and I sang,” he added. “It was really touching to live their memory. To honor them was just one of the biggest honors of my life.”

John Foster’s mother said her son speaks his feelings through his music. She said she could tell he was dealing with a lot after hearing his song about the girls for the first time.

“My son and Maggie, they were really close,” Amanda said. “When he sent the song to me and I listened to it, my heart felt for him. There’s so much feeling in it. Just knowing that it was from his heart was touching.”

John Foster said it gets better every time he sings the song and he’s appreciative of all the love he has received in the community as they all continue to move forward.

“I’ve never experienced so much love in my life,” he admitted. “The minute I posted it, it blew up. Caroline’s dad, Mr. Jason was really touched by the song and just to know that I could help at least one person through those times, just to know I could help one person through that song was just such an honor.

“This is Maggie and Caroline’s song,” he added. This isn’t mine. I don’t really consider it to be my song because the song’s not about me. I want to keep everyone’s mind on Maggie and Caroline. The community will never know how appreciative I am of all the love and support. I just want it to be about Maggie and Caroline.”

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