Students honor friends' memories with garden

Brian Feldt

Surely it was a sign from her friends in heaven.

Just hours before Manual High School sophomore Brittany Gayton was set to honor her dead friends at an outside memorial service Tuesday, rain clouds cluttered the sky. But by the time the service started in Manual’s courtyard, it was if the sky had been painted blue.

Gayton took it as a sign. Her friends — Dequarrius Sims, Natasha Logan and Tyrell Langford — were saying hello from Heaven.

Gayton, along with the rest of Manual High School, honored the three students by dedicating the newly renovated courtyard in their honor. All three have died within the past year.

Sims died exactly one year ago to the date of the memorial. He was fatally shot in a Harrison Homes apartment not far from where he lived. Logan died of an asthma attack in February and Langford of cancer in March. Sims and Logan were both 17 and Langford was just 15.

"I just knew that even though they said there would be rain today (Tuesday) that it would just be an absolute beautiful day," said Manual teacher Pam Beavers. "I put my Rosary beads out last night and I had all the confidence in the world that this was going to turn out for the best."

Without a single cloud in the sky, about 100 seniors gathered in the high school’s courtyard while others peeked out of classroom windows in efforts to pay tribute to their former classmates, who many said were friends to all in the school.

Gayton said the tribute was fitting and she was glad the school could turn the loss into something meaningful.

"We do miss them but I know they are looking down on us and smiling at us," she said. "I think this is a good thing because many people know Manual for bad things and this is something that people can recognize with Manual as a positive thing. So it’s good to be known for a good thing after such bad things happen."

All three were given a space around the high school’s courtyard pond, where a stone slab featuring their faces will memorialize them.

"I think it is important because so many things are not stable, especially in this community," said Kristie Hubbard, Manual’s assistant principal, who had to pause a few times during the ceremony to collect her emotions. "The pond will always be there and they’ll always be in our memories."

Many students openly cried during the ceremony that lasted about an hour as friends of the three read poems in their honor. After the readings, the group released 49 balloons — one for every year the three had lived.

The memorial idea was initially formed when students in Beavers’ horticulture class were finishing up the courtyard’s pond. Those plans folded but resurfaced as the anniversary of Sims’ death approached — this time with the three students in mind.

No more than two weeks later, plans were set to honor them. Beavers said the input from the students has been impressive.

"The kids here at Manual are like our own kids," she said. "So when one of them dies, it’s like our own kids. We are such a small, close-knit group here and it really has a ripple effect here. It’s not just affecting a few kids, it’s the whole school."

Brian Feldt can be reached at (309) 686-3194 or