Despite a two-hour delay Friday that led to classes being canceled, Bledsoe County Middle School's staff came to work because that's what the school's late principal would have expected.
Principal and longtime Bledsoe County educator Deborah Thompson was killed Thursday afternoon when a car plowed into a restaurant in Knoxville. Police said the car struck her before it came to rest in the Wild Birds Unlimited store next door.
"The staff had really wanted to come today because they knew that Miss Debbie would tell them to be here for the students," Bledsoe County Director of Schools Jennifer Terry said Friday.
"She would have told us all to 'suck it up and get in there and take care of those kids,'" Terry said, teary-eyed.
"Debbie was definitely the rock of the school."
Terry and middle school staff members wanted to gather Friday to comfort each other, she said.
"Miss Debbie was a beloved friend and co-worker of everyone here and she will be sorely missed," she said. "It is a very rough day here. We're all still kind of in shock."
Officials had delayed schools for two hours Friday so staff could prepare for a tough day in the wake of Thompson's death. When snow began falling early in the day, classes were called off.
Terry said Thompson, 58, had been with the system for 23 years, serving the last two as Bledsoe Middle School principal and previously as a teacher in special education and at county elementary schools. Thompson leaves behind an adult son and daughter.
Knoxville Police Department spokesman Darrell DeBusk said Friday that Thompson was standing in line at the cash register in the Tomato Head restaurant about 2:30 p.m. Thursday when a 2013 Chrysler 300 smashed through the business and hit her.
A blood sample was taken from the driver, Dewayne Edward Kelley, 53, of Lennox View Way in Knoxville, while he was being treated for what police said were "nonlife-threatening injuries," DeBusk said in a news release.
Kelley's Chrysler was towed to the Knoxville Police Department and will be inspected as part of the ongoing investigation, he said. Officials do not suspect that alcohol contributed to the wreck.
Terry said Friday that Thompson's co-workers and friends in the school system want to do something to honor her but won't announce any plans until they've talked with family members.