By Katina Caraganis
TOWNSEND -- Justin Fournier was remembered Tuesday as a kid who had a passion for working with his hands, whether he was tinkering on engines for motorized vehicles or playing his guitar, and riding his dirt bike.
Fournier, 16, and his mother, Michelle Martens, 36, were killed Sunday morning while driving on Ashby State Road in Fitchburg when their Kia Sportage crossed the center line and struck a Chevrolet Silverado.
Martens was a 15-year-veteran of the Ashby Fire Department, and Fournier, a junior at North Middlesex Regional High School in Townsend, had recently joined the department as an auxiliary member.
The driver of the Silverado, 54-year-old Wayne Patenaude, is also a firefighter in Ashby.
Fournier's cousin, Kerry Woodruff of Hubbardston, said she and Fournier had always been close, so close that he often referred to her as his aunt.
"He was just an incredibly loving kid," Woodruff said Tuesday afternoon. "I remember in the late summer or early fall, he was out to dinner with his grandparents and he saw a teacher he had across the restaurant and excused himself to go say hello."
That was the type of kid he was, she said, never hesitating to go out of his way to do something for someone.
"He was such a joy to his family. He was the light in their lives," she said, adding that becoming a firefighter in Ashby was a lifelong dream of his.
"He was so excited about being a part of that. He looked up to his mom and his grandparents. He was always that kid who wanted to help people," she said, noting that he would have been the fourth generation on the Ashby Fire Department.
Woodruff said Fournier also loved riding dirt bikes and working on engines, and said he had considered attending a technical school to further his knowledge on engines. He also loved driving his grandfather's Mustang, she said.
"He was your typical guy's guy," she said.
His other pride and joy, she said, was his younger sister, Jasmine.
"I had only met his sister a few times," said Woodruff, who is related to Fournier on his father's side. "But whenever I hung out with him or talked to him, he always talked about her. He absolutely adored her. He carried pictures of her. He just loved his baby sister."
She said she found out about the accident through a link someone had posted on Facebook, and then found out it had been Fournier and his mother the same way.
She said the family had been on the way to the funeral home to begin making funeral arrangements for the two, and had not called family members to alert them to the news. She said no final arrangements have been made.
"He was just an amazing kid," she said. "I worked at the same day care he went to, and people from there are calling me to share memories. Even as a toddler, he was loving."
Jonna Clermont, a member of the North Middlesex Regional School Committee and a guidance counselor at Westford Academy, said it's normal for teenagers suffering a loss to feel uncertain. She said that often, even if they didn't know a victim personally but were in the same class as him, they can feel some anxiety about going back to that particular class.
"They can experience some anxiety about having to go back there," she said. "It's normal for them to be apprehensive about it because it's a change in their normal schedule. They can also start asking why it happened to him and his family, or if it could happen to them."
The best thing they can do is talk about their feelings with friends, adults they trust or school counselors.
Despite the fact that North Middlesex Regional is closed for February vacation, help is available to students at the school every morning, from 8:30 to 11:30. And when the school reopens Monday, guidance counselors will be available.
"It's just such a horrible tragedy," Clermont said. "You never want to hear about something like this, and to hit so close to home is even worse."
Barbara Guerriero, a teacher at the high school, said Tuesday afternoon she'd had a chance to work with Justin in his freshman and sophomore years at the high school. She said he was a friend to everyone he came across.
"He was a quiet young man, and yet so friendly and funny," she said. "He would certainly keep us on our toes with his humor. I can see on his Facebook page how much they miss him already.
"Our school has a wonderful support system," she added. "There's been so many tragedies from North Middlesex recently. I hope they have a great sports team up in heaven to keep our kids busy. We have a new angel now looking down on us, that's for sure."