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Thousands celebrate life of Daron Richardson

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
They will never forget the day they heard the news about her shocking death.

But much more than that, the family and friends of Daron Richardson want to remember the way she lived her life to the fullest and brought so much joy and kindness into their world.

That was made abundantly clear on an emotionally charged morning at Scotiabank Place, when more than 5,600 people streamed into the arena to celebrate the life of Ottawa Senators assistant coach Luke Richardson's 14-year-old daughter, who died on the weekend.

In a nearly two-hour service wrought with tears, many of Daron's friends, hockey teammates and school teachers painted a picture of a young girl who touched their lives in so many positive ways. It is a spirit they all intend to carry forward with them.

"DIFD — Do it for Daron," Erin Sauve, a member of the Ottawa Senators Women's Bantam AA hockey team, said in dedicating the rest of their season to a much beloved teammate. "Always and forever, never forget."

It was a sentiment shared by everyone who spoke during the memorial service. Her closest friends, collectively known as the 'Group of Seven,' choked back tears as, one by one, they talked about someone who taught them all "the true meaning of friendship." Among them was Emily Groper, who called Daron "the definition of a best friend" and "the sister that I never had."

"I would give anything to spend one more second with you," she said through heartfelt sobs that had many who witnessed it wiping away tears of their own.

Hundreds of students were bused in from Elmwood School and Ashbury College, where Daron was a popular Grade 9 student who excelled at everything she laid her hands on, whether it was in the classroom, on the playing field or on the drama stage. Mostly, though, she touched lives with her kindness and generosity.

"Daron was loved," said Mike Dagenais, a longtime friend and junior hockey teammate of Luke Richardson and Daron's godfather, who read the eulogy. "All it takes is to look around this venue today to see evidence of that."

"The family chose the road that is less travelled and sometimes that road is more difficult, but it doesn't mean it's not the right path to choose. They wanted to make something good happen out of a tragedy." - Cyril Leeder
No such bond was closer than that shared between Daron and her older sister, Morgan. In his eulogy, Dagenais shared the story of a heartbroken Morgan spending the last 40 hours of Daron's life at her hospital bedside, holding her hand most of the time. Morgan also placed the headphones of her iPod on her sister's ears so she would hear music, not the beeping of hospital machines.

Daron's influence is already being felt in the lives of four others who have benefited from the decision of Luke and Stephanie Richardson to donate her organs. They also chose to share their grief in a public way to help raise awareness about teen suicides and mental health issues in young people.

"The family chose the road that is less travelled and sometimes that road is more difficult, but it doesn't mean it's not the right path to choose," Senators president Cyril Leeder said on a day that he termed "difficult" for the entire organization. "They wanted to make something good happen out of a tragedy ... raise the awareness about teen suicide and also provide organ donations so four others could go forward."

The entire Senators team and coaching staff was in attendance at the service, choosing to return home from a road trip to support the Richardson family. Hours after the memorial, they headed off to Raleigh, N.C., where they'll face the Carolina Hurricanes tonight. General manager Bryan Murray admitted it has been an extremely trying time for the players, many of whom were shaken by the news of Daron's death.

"We're all devastated by the tragedy," he said after the service. "Knowing Luke and Stephanie as long as I have, personally it's been very tragic (as well)."

Nearly 100 players and alumni from around the National Hockey League, many of them former Richardson teammates, made the trip to Ottawa for the memorial.

"The hockey community is exceptional when you have something like this happen," said Paul Holmgren, general manager of the Philadelphia Flyers, where Richardson played for five seasons. "Our sport is tremendous in reaching out to people who are in need."

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