NEWMAN - Family, friends and the community as a whole mourned the death of a 15-year-old Orestimba High School student last week.
Michelle Taylor, a sophomore, passed away Monday, Sept. 3.
She was remembered by those who knew her as a talented musician and a free spirit, a teen who was fun-loving within her supportive friend group but serious-minded and often quiet outside that circle.
Music was a growing interest for Michelle, her parents Tracy and Richard Taylor shared Monday, and she aspired to be a music teacher.
Michelle had, in fact, marched with the Orestimba High band in the Fall Festival parade the day before she died, playing the purple-and-gold saxophone presented by her parents as a birthday gift last year.
The next morning, she took her own life.
Michelle left behind devastated, heart-broken family and friends, and a community reeling from shock - but one which quickly rallied around the family.
The outpouring of support has been overwhelming, Richard and Tracy Taylor reflected, as friends and strangers alike have come forward with gestures of support too numerous to chronicle.
“We started a list, but we can’t keep track any more,” Richard Taylor remarked.
This week, in their quiet, flower-filled home, Michelle’s parents looked back on her full but tragically short life.
“She was her own person,” Tracy Taylor said. “She didn’t care what anybody thought.”
Michelle’s heart was in giving to others, her parents reflected, and she was a loving “little big sister” to Megan, her 17-year-old sibling with special needs.
“She was shy and quiet, and very brave,” said Richard Taylor, recalling that he last heard Michelle’s voice as she sang in her room.
While she had numerous interests, including softball and gardening, many of Michelle’s activities revolved around music.
She danced for 11 years at Cornerstone Dance, with her mother and sister.
“She was really good,” Tracy Taylor reflected. “We were all signed up again this year. It was going to be our last year dancing.”
Michelle played numerous musical instruments and loved singing as well.
She landed a major role in the Newman-Crows Landing Unified School District Musical Theatre Department’s production of “Beauty and the Beast” earlier this year.
Michelle didn’t care much for rehearsals, her parents recalled, but when the curtain rose loved performing.
Director Hardy Reeves described Michelle as a “wonderful person with a wonderful voice” who willingly took younger cast members under her wing.
Her death hit particularly hard in the Orestimba band room, where Michelle was a familiar and well-liked figure.
“We have 50 kids in band this year, and she knew every one of them,” said music teacher David Clark. “Band kids are tight. This has been a struggle.”
Clark said the band room was Michelle’s home on campus.
“We are a family, and we are missing a member now. It has hit the kids hard, but they are doing okay,” Clark told Mattos Newspapers. “They are handling it as best they can.”
Michelle, he added, “was a great kid. I don’t ever remember a time when she was not just a great person to be around.”
Principal Justin Pruett said the school community responded quickly when word of the tragedy spread.
“I had 15 or 16 people here that (Monday) afternoon willing to do whatever they needed to do to help,” he said Thursday. “Her parents were willing to talk to us, and they were willing to allow us to share the information so that the students could have factual information instead of wondering. They have been courageous through this. They are allowing our school community to work through our emotions and heal in a way that I don’t think a lot get to.”
A crisis support team was quickly formed, Pruett told the school board Monday night, and protocols were established to provide support for grieving students and staff alike.
Counselors from within district staff and outside providers were made available to students in both group and individual settings.
“You saw a lot of students leaning on each other, a lot of overwhelming sadness on campus” when classes resumed Tuesday after the long weekend, Pruett said.
More than 80 students were counseled during the course of four school days last week, Pruett reported. That support will continue through the weeks and months ahead.
Pruett said Michelle “loved to entertain, and loved to make people laugh. The majority of the time she was fun-loving and drawing attention....just liking being silly and goofy. That is what I saw (when she was) within her friend group.”
But Michelle was also troubled, her parents said, and had been in counseling.
“She was loved and adored, but she was really hurting inside. Everybody kept telling us that she was a normal teen going through hard times,” Tracy Taylor reflected. “She was hurting inside...she would come to me and we would talk and laugh and she would move on. She always came to me when she needed to....but she didn’t that Monday morning.”
Funeral services for Michelle Taylor were held Saturday afternoon, with an overflow crowd of mourners in attendance to pay their last respects.