'Students are really hurting': Hoke County school remembers teens found in truck

RAEFORD, N.C. (WTVD) -- School officials called the grief blanketing Hoke County immeasurable Tuesday. First, first the death of Sheriff Hubert Peterkin and then two of their own. Back-to-back tragedies are bringing this community together.

According to the Hoke County Sheriff's Office, they were alerted when Ailton Sebastian Tirado-Martinez didn't return home in time for his midnight curfew. On Sunday morning, a deputy found a truck that matched the description of what the missing teen was driving. Tirado-Martinez and Britany Carolina Munoz Ramirez were found dead inside. There is an investigation into what led to their cause of death.

The two Hoke County High School juniors were found on the campus of Don Steed Elementary School early Sunday morning. The sheriff's office said foul play is not suspected.

The empty desk in Ruth Herbert's English class serves as a painful reminder that a beloved student leader is gone forever. According to Herbert, Ramirez often helped bridge the communication gap between her Spanish-speaking peers and teacher by translating lessons.

"She was just such a wonderful child," Herbert said of Ramirez. "She was actually the go-between for me as an English-only speaker and her being a bilingual speaker. Also just being a person who wanted to help others."

Martinez was also known as a standout student. On Tuesday morning, Civics teacher Diane Mitchell gave emotional students time and space to grieve.

"They're coming and making peace, but it's going to be a while before they fully embrace. They are really hurting. He was a sweet child," said Mitchell.

There was an emotional start to Monday night's soccer conference tournament, where Martinez would have played. There was a balloon release, moment of silence and their pictures displayed on the Jumbotron. Players wore "ATM" on their shoulders to honor their teammate.

"We all wore his number on our sleeves. The players went out there and I think they took a piece of him. He played with passion and our boys played with passion last night. We played very well, "said soccer coach Colin McDavid.

Both students played soccer. Their parents attended the game surrounded by those who knew their children. Coach Latoya Ray shared what she'll miss most about both.

"When Ailton came, he lit up when he saw me. I'll miss him saying, 'Coach Ray, I came to see you at practice,' I'm going to miss Britany's softness and kindness toward my child. That meant a lot to me," said Ray.
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