Friends grieve after deaths of four Kent State students

student car crash

Since May, four Kent State students died. Dean of Students Lamar Hylton held a press conference June 16 to explain the resources available at Kent State, such as grief counseling, and told community members that staff has been trained to help others in need.

“I also know that we are a very resilient community, so there is hope,” Hylton said.

In remembrance, the KentWired staff spoke to friends of those who died.

Myka Gray

Myka Gray, known for her big heart and the will to help anyone in need, studied special education.

“If she could make a difference in someone’s life, even the littlest, she did in a heartbeat,” said Geoffrey Gedeon, a former boyfriend.

Gray, 19, died in a car crash in Geauga County on May 24, along with her friend Kayleigh O’Brien, 18, who attended Lakeland Community College. Both girls graduated from Perry High School.

Alyssa Clayton, a sophomore art education major, said she stumbled upon Myka when she looked for a roommate her freshman year. She met Myka on RoomSync and didn’t realize she had made a best friend.

“She was my best friend and my roommate, but … for me, it was a lot more than that because she was honestly like the brains of the operation,” Clayton said. “There’s like, not a sad thought that really goes through her mind, ever, so she just gives off very positive vibes, and she’s just someone that you immediately really like, so there was no … like, I immediately knew that I wanted her to be my roommate.”

Clayton echoed Gedeon’s statement and noted she always helped others, no matter the situation at hand. Myka volunteered at a school for people with disabilities and was involved with the community.

“She had her heart and mind set on becoming a special education teacher for students — moderate to intensive care autism students, and that really reflected on the kind of person she was,” Gedeon said. “Her heart was enormous, she would be giving advice to 10 different people on whatever problems they were facing and was always there for whoever needed help.”

Chirstina Patrizi, a senior nursing student, said Gray spread positivity wherever she went. 

“She was always the life of the party and was very spontaneous,” Patrizi said. “She was a friend to everyone she met and went out of her way to make people feel included. She was an amazing friend.”

Since their deaths, the families launched the Myka and Kayleigh Memorial Fund. 

Taylor Pifer

Taylor Pifer, who studied fashion design, loved Grey’s Anatomy, fashion, softball and Luke Bryan. But most of all, she loved her friends and family.

“Taylor was one of the kindest hearts in the world,” said friend Erica Cope. “A saying (from) one of her favorite TV shows, Grey’s Anatomy, is calling someone their “person” as in that person (is someone) you can go to about anything, and they’ll support you no matter what. Taylor was my person, but because of the kind person that she was, she was also so many other people’s person.”

Taylor, 21, died with her sister, Kylie Pifer, 18, and their mother, Suzanne Taylor, 45, in a triple homicide in their North Royalton home on June 11.

Pifer’s passion for fashion showed every day, Cope said. 

“She was always super proud of her work and knew that she wanted to run her own company some day with our friend Sam,” Cope said. “She dressed me almost every day and even decided that if I ever get married she (would design) my wedding dress because she ‘knew exactly what I wanted.’”

Bryan Demery said Pifer coached his daughter when she was on a softball team.

“What I remember most about Taylor is when she awarded my daughter the game ball on June 8th, 2017,” Bryan said. “Their team won the game 7 to 6 and my daughter scored the winning run. She was so happy to be recognized.” 

Friend Brianna Wadsworth said she had spoken with Pifer a few days prior to the incident and made plans to get together the next time Wadsworth came back to town.

“We even called each other soulmates,” Wadsworth said. “Taylor’s personality would light up the room. She was such a loveable, outgoing, enthusiastic, smart, gorgeous, athletic … there is simply too many words to describe her.”

Wadsworth said her family and Pifer’s family were close friends, and it didn’t set in until a few days after they were gone.

“I also told her that if (Pifer and her family) ever come through North Carolina and are close by that they could stop and have lunch or dinner with my husband and I,” Wadsworth said. “It finally set in after a few days that they are gone. I know it’s taken a hit for my family and I. We were all so close.”

To remember the family, Wadsworth said she spends time looking through pictures and reflects on the memories they shared.

“I want everyone who knew her to remember her as who she was and keep the memories alive. Don’t ever stop remembering who she was,” Wadsworth said. “That’s the most we can do in honor of her.”

Tyler Heintz

Tyler Heintz, an incoming freshman lineman, planned to study marketing and entrepreneurship.

Heintz, 18, collapsed at the second day of football practice on June 13. Portage County Coroner Dean Deperro revealed heat likely caused his death, but the autopsy could take months.

He graduated from Kenton High School. Brent Fackler, head coach for Kenton’s football team, described Heintz as a hard worker and a tremendous athlete who led by example.

“He was a great kid — one of those kids you loved being around,” Fackler said.

Heintz received a full scholarship to Kent State. He was also named to the 2016 AP All-Northwest District Second Team.

Kent State released a statement following his death:

“We are deeply saddened by the loss. Tyler was an unselfish young man who exemplifies everything we look for in a Golden Flash. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family and friends.”

James Stockdale

James Stockdale enjoyed playing in the Stockdale Family Band, led by his father, Tim Stockdale, and strummed alongside his family to create bluegrass tunes.

“In the communications class, you know, we all got to talk a lot more, so everyone was always curious and interested to see what James had to say because he was a very intriguing person,” said friend Kiersty Correll. “He brought his double bass in, which is the big stand up base, he brought that into play it for us, and …. his face got all red, (and said) ‘Wow, I’m not usually nervous to play, I’m nervous right now.'”

Stockdale attended school at the Stark and Tuscarawas campuses, and he studied business management.

He died June 15, along with his mother, Kathryn Stockdale. Police said Stockdales’s brother, Jacob Stockdale, shot and killed Stockdale and their mother. Jacob Stockdale then tried to commit suicide when police arrived at the home in Beach City but is currently in critical condition at Cleveland Metro.

“(Stockdale) was very honest and kind hearted, confident, passionate. He was an optimistic person,” Correll said. “I feel like a soul like his could never truly die.”

Following his death, Denise Seachrist, dean and chief administrative officer of the Stark campus, along with Bradley Bielski, dean and chief administrative officer of the Tuscarawas campus released a statement:

“We are saddened by the news of the tragic death of one of the Kent State University at Stark and Tuscarawas students, James Stockdale. James was a business management major who studied at the Tuscarawas and Stark campuses. We offer our sincerest condolences and support to his family, students, staff and faculty and all those who knew James as they deal with this tragedy.”

Cameron Gorman is a reporter, contact her at [email protected]

Jared Cornett is a reporter, contact him at [email protected]

Lydia Taylor is the editor-in-chief, contact her at [email protected]

Andrew Atkins and Matt Poe contributed to this story, contact them at [email protected] and [email protected]