SACO — Every once in a while, Nicole Hall manages to forget that her Thornton Academy classmate, Ashley Ouellette, was killed and left in the middle of a Scarborough road three months ago.

She forgets that she will never see Ouellette’s smiling face again, or take comfort in the way the friendly 15-year-old sophomore could make her feel special with simple small talk. “Then I remember, and it all comes back,” said a tearful Hall, a 17-year-old junior who attended Thornton’s alternative education program with Ouellette.

As Thornton Academy dedicated a granite bench in Ouellette’s memory Friday afternoon, Hall and some of her classmates once again faced their loss and the horrible frustration of an unsolved crime.

Maine State Police continue to investigate the Feb. 10 slaying, but no arrests have been made. After attending a party the night before, Ouellette was found early that morning, strangled and lying face-down on Pine Point Road.

Headmaster Carl Stasio said the bench, placed beneath a tree in front of the Atrium, is meant to serve as a permanent reminder of the girl who will not graduate with her class in 2001.

Ouellette’s parents, Robert and Lise, and her younger sister, Lindsey, attended the unveiling ceremony and offered thanks for all the community has done to show its support.

In addition to the granite bench, a memorial scholarship has raised $19,000, and the Ashley Ouellette Justice Fund has raised $860 in addition to the Ouellettes’ $10,000 reward for help in the investigation.

“We have to learn to love and respect each other,” said Lise Ouellette, directing her remarks specifically to the students. “We have to take care of each other.”

For some students — those who find themselves on the threshold of the prom and graduation and the rest of their lives — the bench will be a sobering symbol of their own fragile mortality.

“I think the whole thing was a reality check for everybody,” said Michelle Cote, the sophomore class secretary who participated in the dedication ceremony.

“The loss of Ashley made people realize it could happen to them,” Cote said. “It’s getting easier now because the rumors have died down and I think a lot of people have come to accept the fact that she’s gone.”

But even among the students who have come to terms with Ouellette’s death, there are some who understand how difficult it must be for those who have not.

“It’s still hard to talk about for some of us,” said Erica Sabo, who grew up with Ouellette and participated in the ceremony as vice president of the sophomore class.

“It’s harder to move on for some students who really knew Ashley because it hasn’t really ended,” Sabo said. “I try to put myself in their situation — if I had lost one of my closest friends — and I can’t imagine it.”

Indeed, after the ceremony many of Ouellette’s closest friends refused to talk about her death. Some of the students who did share their feelings were angry to be faced with a constant reminder of their loss.

“It just proves that she’s actually gone and she’s not coming back,” said Sean McKenna, a 17-year-old junior who stood silently, looking at the bench, with a small group of students.

“It’s made the situation better for the wrong people for the wrong reasons,” McKenna said. “Some people might just want to let it go and not be reminded of it. For the people who were close to her, it brings it all up again.”