Emily Glaser, Megan Espinosa and Shanaia “Shay” Bennett were the Three Musketeers of Henderson Bay High School. Then, late on Dec. 16, everything changed.
Bennett, a senior, died at the scene of a car wreck on Baby Doll Road in Port Orchard along with her friend, Rebbekah Barrett. Without her, Henderson Bay is grieving and rallying to get through the day.
“I’ve been absolutely amazed by the kids around here,” Principal Dave Goodwin said last week. “They’re going out of their way to really comfort each other.”
Investigators believe Barrett, who was driving her 1994 Toyota Camry, was racing with another driver when she swerved to avoid an SUV. The Camry careened off the road and slammed into a tree. Bennett and Barrett were killed and a third passenger was injured.
Robert Rundquist Jr., who was driving the pickup truck the girls allegedly were racing, is facing charges of vehicular homicide.
Bennett’s family said they’ve forgiven Rundquist for his involvement, according to KIRO-TV.
Bennett and Barrett were like sisters to Megan Espinosa. The accident occurred at 9:45 p.m., and Espinosa got a call from a friend at 10 p.m. Bennett was gone.
Glaser, Lindsey Schlatter, Espinosa and her brother, Preston Espinosa, and Nate Greenley all gathered at a table last Thursday to remember Bennett. The group painted a picture of a girl whom they say lit up every room in the school.
The “Hello Kitty Queen,” who welcomed new students, brought them muffins, played practical jokes and always wore bright, mismatched outfits — “literally, you could spot her a mile away,” Schlatter said.
Bennett was a fiercely loyal friend, the group said.
“She always put you first,” Megan Espinosa said. “She went out of her way for everyone.”
“The world will never be the same,” Glaser added.
Bennett’s sense of humor and goof-ball behavior set her apart at Henderson Bay. Megan Espinosa recalled laughing so hard she cried when she was with Bennett. All the students at the table laughed while they told stories about her.
“I don’t think I ever had a conversation with her where I wasn’t laughing,” Greenley said.
Glaser said one night Bennett was going to stay over at Glaser’s house, so they went to the grocery store. Bennett took her up and down every single aisle while they laughed until they had a cart full of groceries, Glaser said.
Then, Bennett had the idea to go through self-checkout. Glaser wasn’t optimistic, but Bennett assured her it would all be fine.
“Literally every single thing, every single item we had in there, we had to get help on,” Glaser said.
“I feel like we’re almost creating a character, talking about this,” Schlatter said. “It’s wild that she’s not here, so it’s almost like we’re describing someone else. Even though these things are so relevant, and they relate to her, it’s like I’m not picturing Shay right now. I’m picturing someone that isn’t here.”
Henderson Bay is a school of choice. It’s the Peninsula School District’s alternative to the other high schools, a specialized place where students can have unique needs, such as daycare or academic help, met.
“We take care of each other,” Greenley said.
“When someone outside of the school has something that’s rude to say like, ‘Oh, you go to Henderson, it’s a bunch of druggies,’ it’s like, ‘No, we all stand up for each other,’ ” Megan Espinosa said. “We go to that school because we chose to. We want to better ourselves as people.”
Such a small community can be difficult for new students, but all of them were new once. Bennett understood that. Each student at the table had a different story about how they were welcomed.
All of them appreciated that Bennett folded them into the group. When Megan Espinosa’s younger brother, Preston, arrived at the school from California, he already had heard about Shay, the girl who had become his sister’s confidant. He felt like he already knew Bennett. She asked him about his day, without even really knowing him, he said, and that meant a lot to him.
“She just came off as this really nice person,” Preston Espinosa said. “It was my first week here, and getting to know people was really tough.”
Schlatter was new to the school at about this time last year.
“Shay was the only genuine person that was like, ‘Hey, you need someone to sit with? Come hang out,’ ” Schlatter said.
“Get over here,” Schlatter recalled Bennett telling her. “Come sit over here.”
Glaser met Bennett as a transfer student at Gig Harbor High School. They had English class together. Bennett looked at her and shook her head. Glaser liked her sassy attitude and pursued Bennett, thinking they would make a good pair.
“Ever since then, we were best friends,” she said.
Megan Espinosa wears Bennett’s Hello Kitty charm in a necklace, and she held it between her fingers as she remembered her friend. At home, she has Bennett’s black-and-gold purse, as well as paper moustache earrings, gifts from Bennett’s family along with the charm.
Glaser dug through her belongings to find a bracelet that Bennett made her for her birthday. She wanted to wear it after she heard the news.
It wasn’t sinking in for Megan Espinosa. She was reeling from the loss, and all she wanted last week was to talk to her friends, Bennett and Barrett. It was Bennett who shared the ups and downs of life with her, she said.
“She got me through life, honestly,” Megan Espinosa said.
School at Henderson Bay is optional on Wednesdays. Students who need extra help have the opportunity to come in for one-on-one help.
One Wednesday, Bennett dragged Megan Espinosa to school. She remembered dancing in an empty classroom to the song “Electric Avenue” by Eddy Grant.
Music was important to Bennett, who had a well-known talent for singing.
“That girl could harmonize like it was drinking water,” Schlatter said.
Bennett performed the song “Cups” by Anna Kendrick at a school talent show. The students said they could see how important that song is now. The chorus, “you’re gonna miss me when I’m gone,” holds more weight.
She was just here, painting her nails bright red in math class, Greenley said. Bennett had all colors of nail polish. Always bright.
Glaser heard the news at 5 a.m. the day after the wreck. She went to school but only stayed for an hour because it was just too much, she said.
It was tough to be at school for Schlatter, too, “because so many people were so distraught and torn up about it. It was hard to even see their faces.”
Schlatter had a fourth-period class with Bennett. While watching the movie version of Shakespeare’s “Othello,” the girls laughed and did their own voiceovers. That fourth period was the last time Schlatter saw her friend.
“That was Monday,” she said. “It’s just wild. You can be talking to someone, and in a matter of minutes ... ”
Schlatter said death is a crossroads. You can “get bitter about it, or get better,” she said her mother told her.
Schlatter said she’s choosing to get better, not angry. From now on, it will be important that she and her friends always wear seatbelts in the car, she said. Barrett’s father told Megan Espinosa to tell everyone to think about how they drive, she added.
“He just told me, ‘Please do this favor for me: Wear your seatbelt and tell them how much this hurts,’ ” Megan Espinosa said.
Instead of wearing black, the students wanted to honor Bennett in a way they felt she would want — dressing bright. Wearing Ugg boots — she had a beloved pair she called her “bear claws” — and leggings, with hair up in a messy bun.
“I feel like Shay would want us all to go (to her funeral) in bright colors,” Megan Espinosa said.
A candlelight vigil was held for Bennett on Thursday. Her funeral was held Saturday at Harbor Life Church.Reporter Karen Miller can be reached at 253-358-4155 or by email at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter, @gateway_karen.