The imprint left by Owen Bardzilowski

On the night of Sept. 14, Owen Bardzilowski, a 14-year-old freshman at Princeton High School, took his own life. Some wondered why or how it happened, but what was most poignant in the community after his passing was that Owen was loved and continues to be loved.

In front of the Bardzilowski home, a memorial blossomed in support of the family’s loss and in celebration of Owen’s life. In the midst of tragedy, the compassion and kindness Owen showed his friends, family and community is just a shadow in the imprint he leaves behind.

After Owen’s peers learned of his suicide the following morning, a Thursday shortly after the start of a new school year, a petition for a school memorial service was circulated by a fellow Princeton High School student, Eric Liu. Liu said Owen was a “bright eyed kid who could make anyone’s day.”

Another student, Ava Rand, shared how Owen once sat with her for three hours when her ride was late so she wouldn’t be alone. A close friend, Eman Shamshed, said Owen could make anyone smile.

Within a week, the petition had 923 supporters.

On Facebook, Dawn Pacheco, a friend of Owen’s mother Evelyn, posted that at only 14, Owen was one of the best people she’d ever known.

“His compassion for anyone who was hurting was astounding and the way he loved could take your breath away,” Pacheco posted on Facebook. “He held each one of my children as newborns and was so tender and in awe of their little lives that it always made me weep to watch. I love you, Owen. You will always take space in my heart. I am so sorry I can no longer hug you or hear you tell me something amazing!”

In addition to playing golf with his dad, Joe, Owen enjoyed skateboarding, sports and could impress with a Rubik’s cube, according to his obituary. In the past few years, Owen joined the Princeton Police Department’s Youth Academy and served as a counselor this summer. There, he learned the inner-workings of the department, from arrest procedures and first aid to crime scene investigation and building searches.

It was Owen’s dream to become one of Princeton’s officers in blue. During visiting hours of Owen’s funeral service at Kimble Funeral Home Sept. 19, the Princeton Police honored him as if he already were. Two by two, officers lined up with black bands across their badges. They rotated and stood guard beside Owen’s casket.

“It goes without saying that we in the police department are devastated by Owen’s passing,” Chief of Police Nick Sutter said. “We are proud to say that Owen had joined our police family over the past several years, and we all came to know him as an extraordinary young man who understood the meanings of service and community at a very young age. This is a tragic loss that has had a profound effect on the department and our community. We will continue to honor Owen, his memory and his legacy with the Princeton Police Department’s Youth Academy.”

Owen’s family has embraced their community as many of its members reach out with arms open.

“The outpouring of love from our friends, our family and our community have been comforting for us,” Owen’s father wrote publicly on Facebook. “We know a lot of people are hurting and probably shy about approaching us. This is completely understandable. I just want everyone to know that we are here for you as much as you have been here for us. Just like you, I have no words. But if you need to express your grief quietly or publicly, or if you just want to hug one of Owen’s family members, we are not being shy or hiding from this tragedy. We as a community need to get our heads around this and do whatever we can to raise awareness.”

In addition to resources provided by the Princeton public school district, others spoke proactively for the sake of saving another’s life.

“No one knows what you are going through or how you are feeling until you reach out for help,” Brian Joseph said on Facebook. “Please don’t keep your pain bottled up. Get help. The world needs you to stick around. You will be missed when you’re gone. It may not seem like it right now, but it does get better. It really does.”

“If you are the one struggling, reach out,” Jhilam Iqbal said. “There is help and someone will take your hand.”

About Erica Chayes Wida

Erica Chayes Wida is a writer, mom, and complete zealot when it comes to poetry, paella and globe collections. After graduating with a degree in Anthropology from UCLA, Erica moved to Italy where the seasons and old architecture inspired her journey back to the East Coast. Since then, she and her husband have created a nest egg locally and, over time, developed a rather grand love affair with the town of Princeton. Erica is senior editor at The Princeton Sun and enjoys fulfilling her Princeton affections on a daily basis. | View all posts by Erica Chayes Wida