Anyone you ask will tell you Taylor Fleming could light up a room just by walking into it.
But her light won’t shine anymore.
Taylor, 17, died Sunday night when her family decided to remove her from life support so that her organs could be donated. Taylor was critically injured in a car accident Dec. 8 when her 2003 Dodge Neon was struck broadside by a 2000 Lincoln Continental driven by 45-year-old Timothy Williams of Phoenix. The Cicero-North Syracuse High School senior leaves behind her father Daniel, mother Michelle, four sisters, Kaliegh, Jordan, Schuyler and Reilley, and countless others who were touched by her during her all-too-brief life.
“She had such an impact on people,” said Tim Bednarski, House 2 Principal at C-NS, on Monday after making the announcement that Taylor had succumbed to her injuries. “I think that’s obvious today. The school is the worst I’ve ever seen it, here in this building or in any other building I’ve ever been in. From the students to the staff, everybody. It’s not an exciting place to be right now. We have a room right now where 25 to 50 kids are sitting. Some of them are making posters for Taylor. Some are just writing their thoughts down. It’s just so sad to see this happen, to see 16-, 17-, 18-year-old kids, a lot of them, it’s the first time they’ve gone through something like this, seeing a person be taken.”
Bednarski said he knew Taylor well because she was an outstanding member of the school community.
“It’s hard to put her personality into words,” he said. “Her presence just being around you made you feel good. She was a kind person with an infectious smile. She lights up the room when she comes in. She’s genuinely kind. She’s unique that way.”
Taylor spent time on the softball team during her tenure at C-NS, and she also participated in Yearbook Club. Her passion, however, was helping others.
“A perfect example: every day during lunch, she would eat in the special ed classroom and volunteer her time to work with the kids, not for any kind of volunteer hours, just because that’s what she was all about.” Bednarski said.
Not surprisingly, Bednarski said that, while Taylor wasn’t certain of her future plans, she was leaning toward a career in education.
“The night of her accident, she was at Smith Road helping with their Christmas tree lighting,” Bednarski said. “It wasn’t even her school, but she was there to help. I was recalling having a conversation I’d had with another administrator, and Taylor was thanking the teacher she went with for the opportunity to be a part of it.”
Bednarski said he couldn’t make sense of the accident.
“It’s just so sad, so tragic,” he said. “Everyone loved her, anyone who was around her.”
Meanwhile, friends and family have turned to Facebook to remember the girl they love and to support her family in their time of grief. At least two pages, “Pray for Tay” and “Memories for Taylor,” have been established since Taylor’s accident; both feature regular posts from Taylor’s friends as well as strangers wishing to honor the young woman. It’s meant a lot to her family, according to Margaret Deleo, Dan Fleming’s cousin, who spoke on behalf of the Fleming family.
“We just want to express our appreciation for the love and support the community has shown,” Deleo said. “It’s so wonderful to see that Taylor was loved so much.”
Deleo recalled Taylor as an incredibly vibrant, caring girl with a strong faith in God.
“My last memory of her is at some family function, a Christmas party or something,” Deleo said. “We were leaving, and I just remember her coming up to me and hugging me goodbye. Her parents brought those girls up to be wonderful young ladies. I just remember her hugging me as I was leaving. My own children wouldn’t do that, and I raised good children. She did. It meant so much, especially now. It’s such a positive memory.”
It’s clear Taylor gave as much as she received. Taylor had a favorite phrase: “I love you to the moon and back,” she would say. While she leaves plenty of people behind to grieve for her—her family, her many friends, her boyfriend, Shawn Radder, who bought her a promise ring for Christmas and proposed to her Sunday while she lay unconscious—Taylor will continue to touch the lives of many. Her parents, considering what Taylor would have wanted, decided to donate her organs.
“I’m quoting the minister now, and he’s a friend of Taylor’s father,” Deleo said. “He said, ‘By the donation of her organs, Taylor is helping 60 people. Even with her passing, she’s still helping people.’ That’s the kind of kid she was. She was such a giving person.”
Bednarski echoed those thoughts.
“It just kind of sums up how she was,” he said. “It’s almost an ending to the story.”
Though Taylor’s story has ended, Bednarski believes her legacy will live on.
“I think she leaves the message of being kind to other people.” he said. “That’s who she was. [Sunday] night, the school was open for students, and we had counseling services available. There was a young man here who didn’t know Taylor very well, but I was watching him write a letter to her. And he wrote, ‘You were always kind because you always said hello to me.’ To read that, it shows the kindness she had. It didn’t matter who you were or if she knew you. She was still kind to you.”
“She was a beautiful young woman, inside and out,” she said. “She was just starting out her life. She had such strong faith. God wanted her home with him for Christmas. God had a reason. We don’t know what it is, but He had a reason.”
Sarah Hall is the editor of the Eagle Star-Review and the Baldwinsville Messenger. The 2012 winner of the Syracuse Press Club's Selwyn Kershaw Professional Standards Award, she has been with Eagle Newspapers since 2006. She is a Liverpool native.