Behind the scenes: Every 15 Minutes


Nov. 16 felt like anything but an average Wednesday on Granite Bay High School’s campus. Instead, several students were ripped from classrooms, leaving behind nothing but a haunting black rose while their obituaries were read aloud to the silence-struck classes.

Every 15 Minutes was a large and impactful production, but what most students didn’t see was all the behind the scenes action making the effect so powerful.

“The three main people in charge of the event were me, Gianna Cassano (a GBHS junior) and (Tamara) Givens, but there was a lot of help from others,” GBHS senior Evan Sarmiento said. “Media had to organize their stuff, led by Jayden Troxel (a senior), and we had a lot of people from many different departments, including our assistant principal Mr. McGregor who helped organize some of the administrative stuff.”

Sarmiento said that the planning process took two months and numerous phone calls. They collaborated with Deputy __ Hopping, the California Highway Patrol, the fire department and other organizations to gather volunteers and get the event running smoothly.

As for how Every 15 Minutes was paid for, Sarmiento said that GBHS received a grant from the state for the event, but did have to pay for a small portion itself.

The “Living Dead” consisted of 17 juniors and seniors and one teacher, Julia Bonilla-Leary, who teachers Spanish, plus six more students involved in the simulated drunk driving crash.

“The way we chose who would participate in Every 15 Minutes was based off who we thought would make the greatest impact at our school, so we tried to picked someone from every different group and little niche in the school, and we think we did a pretty good job at that,” Sarmiento said.

One of the “Living Dead” participants was GBHS senior and Tribe leader Dillon Ruddell.

“It was kind of stressful because every time you would go into a classroom you wouldn’t know how the different classes would react,” Ruddell said. “Some (students in) classes would sit there blank-faced, but when we went to Peer Counseling, they were bawling their eyes out.”

After getting pulled out of class by drama teacher Kyle Holmes, who played the part of the grim reaper, each new member of the Living Dead would go to the small gym to get their makeup done to show they were dead. The makeup artists came from Screaming Star Productions. After this, they continued pulling the other students from their classes one by one.

Junior Brennan Holt was an Every 15 Minutes participant as well, but his role was in the car crash as the sober driver who got hit by the drunk driver, played by senior Darren Nelson. Holt was laid unconscious against the steering wheel before being put in a helicopter and taken to the hospital where the doctors pronounced him dead.

“It was probably the biggest swing of emotions,” Holt said. “It was terrifying, but it was still cool at the same time, and I’m happy that I was able to be in it.”

Holt also said that his experience at the hospital was miserable because it felt so real.

“Well they were doing CPR on me and all these tests, and out of the blue the doctor – and my eyes were closed so I couldn’t see anything, I could just hear – said, ‘I don’t think there’s anything else we can do, does anyone have any other forms of treatment for this patient?’ Then he said, ‘Time of death,’ and I think it was 9:32,” Holt said. “And that was when my heart like actually stopped it felt like because hearing someone pronounce your own death was just a weird thing.”

Holt said that the doctors then iced his hands before his sister and parents came in to say goodbye to make it feel more real.

“All I wanted to do was wake up and hug them, but I couldn’t,” Holt said.

Holt was then able to change out of his clothes that were covered in fake blood, as was Emily Talmi, the other student who was rushed to the hospital from the crash and pronounced dead. The two were escorted back to the high school by a police officer where they joined the rest of the “Living Dead” for the retreat.

“We went to the cemetery first, and we talked to the chaplins about people just like us that were in high school, and they died in car accidents or they wasted their lives by making a bad decision,” Ruddell said.

At the cemetery, the participants were also instructed to write in their journals about the experience.

“The whole thing felt real, but then when you’d go see tombstones of people that actually have died for drunk driving collisions, and just in general, being there, it was like anyone could end up in a graveyard at any point in time,” Holt said.

From there, the retreat moved to the county jail, where the students were treated like prisoners by the guards and even locked in individual cells for a few minutes.

The funeral the next day also had a lot of preparation going into it.

“For our speakers, we tried to take them from people from our community who have been affected by drinking and driving, so we tried to pick people that were closer to the school,” Sarmiento said.

Some Every 15 Minutes participants and family members spoke at the funeral as well. These included Ryan Hunter, Alyssa Sewell, Summer Holt, and Emily Talmi’s mom.

“Alyssa Sewell’s speech about her sister and Ryan Hunter’s speech to his family really got to me,” Brennan Holt said. “I was dreading to hear my sister’s speech. The second she started talking I kind of lost it. You never want your sibling to have to be in that position over something so stupid.”

Ruddell said that the experience brought all of them in the “Living Dead” closer and profoundly impacted them all.

“Every single part I’m going to remember forever,” Ruddell said. “I hope I don’t ever have to see one of my own friends, or me, make the same mistakes.”