They call it "laughing gas," but to the southern Utah communities mourning the loss of four young people who overdosed this week on nitrous oxide, it is no laughing matter.
"The community is devastated. It was such a tragic and foolish thing," Dennis Mosdell said Wednesday. Mosdell, owner of Mosdell Mortuary in Kanab, was a first cousin to Shawn Williams - one of four who accidently killed themselves Monday while seeking a thrill.The four, Mosdell said, went to the basement of a dental office Sunday night "on a lark." They thought it would be fun to take some laughing gas, he said. But when they turned on a nitrous oxide tank, filling up the room, they were overcome - and succumbed.
Autopsies performed by the state medical examiner confirmed that the deaths were due to asphyxiation from nitrous oxide.
Bonded by shock and sorrow, family and friends are remembering the full lives of the popular youths - Owen Marc Gregerson, 18, and Shawn Williams, 19, both from Cedar City; Christine Cherie Miller, 20, Fillmore, and Margaret Jo Probert, 20, Scipio.
Hundreds of Cedar City residents, bringing food and offering condolences and support, filed in and out of the Gregerson and Williams' homes - two houses apart on Rose Hill Road in Cedar City.
Shawn and Marc were more than just best friends, Mosdell said. Since the death of Shawn's father three years ago, Dr. N. O. Gregerson (a Cedar City dentist) has been a father figure to his son's friend.
Because of the closeness, both families feel as if they have lost two sons. The loss is monumental.
"He loved life. He couldn't get enough of life; he had to do it all," said Mosdell of the Shawn Williams, an avid sportsman who excelled in hunting, water and snow skiing, scuba diving and snowmobiling.
Shawn, who had completed a year at Southern Utah State College, worked for the family business, Dallen R. Williams & Sons Real Estate Investment. At age 19, he was a certified real estate agent.
His friend, Owen Marc Gregerson, was also from a well-established Cedar City family, and had made plans to follow in his father's footsteps.
He had been accepted and was planning to attend the Dental Laboratory Technician School at Pima College in Tucson, Ariz., starting this fall.
Like his best friend, Marc had passed the real estate test and worked for his brother, David, as a real estate and mortgage broker at Brian Head.
Marc, whose happy personality won him the title of "family peace-maker," had also worked as an orthodontic lab technician for his dad since the age of 16.
"Both boys were loved by everyone for their consideration and kindness," one neighbor said. "They were real gentlemen."
In Fillmore and Scipio, a similar feeling of loss also prevails.
"The young people are quite affected by the passing of Margaret and Christine. It's difficult for them to comprehend," said Roger Olpin, owner and manager of Olpin Mortuary in Fillmore. "For the families, it's just sadness, no anger."
The two young women, Olpin said, grew up together, graduated from Millard High School and had been friends most of their lives.
Both were excellent students and involved in extra-curricular activities. Christine was a varsity cheerleader. Both were popular with classmates and peers.
Christine had attended Weber State College, but was working in Cedar City at Submarine Sandwiches at the time of her death. Margaret had previously worked at the fast-food restaurant with her friend, but quit to attend SUSC. It was at the college that the two young women and men became friends.
Family members said the four were merely seeking fun when they went to the basement dental office. The tragic result was death for four "good kids."
These are the dates and times of the victims' funerals:
Owen Marc Gregerson, Aug. 11, at 11 a.m., Cedar City 17th LDS Ward Chapel.
Margaret Jo Probert, Aug. 11, at noon, Scipio LDS Ward Chapel.
Christine Cherie Miller, Aug. 12 at 11 a.m., Fillmore First & Fourth LDS Ward Chapel.
Shawn Williams, Aug. 13, at 1 p.m. in the Cedar West LDS Stake Center.