ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
Staff photo by Doug Strickland / Three Chattanooga Police Officers, who requested that their names not be used but said that they were the first three officers to arrive on scene, bring balloons and a stuffed animal to leave at the site of a fatal school bus crash on Talley Road on Wednesday, Nov. 23, 2016, in Chattanooga, Tenn. The makeshift memorial to victims of the Monday crash, which killed 5 Woodmore Elementary students and injured dozens more, has grown since the road was reopened Tuesday.
some text
Keonte Wilson, 8, died Nov. 23 after he was injured in a school bus crash on Nov. 21. Photo provided by Clifford Rutledge

Keonte Wilson, 8: Rambunctious boy was youngest of four

Keonte Wilson spent his days fixing, building and playing.

The rambunctious 8-year-old was always into something, said his grandfather, Henry Ballard Jr. Keonte rode his bike, played with his siblings and was excited every morning when it was time to go to school, Ballard said.

He went by "Tae Tae," a nickname his dad gave him. He was the youngest of four siblings, the baby of the family. His older brothers looked out for him, Ballard said.

Keonte held on in the hospital for two days after he was injured in Monday's bus crash. He died Wednesday.

"He tried to fight back, but he just couldn't," Ballard said.

Before Keonte died, Ballard leaned close to the hospital bed and tried to say goodbye. He doesn't know if Keonte heard him, amid all the tubes and machines and beeps.

"I said to him, 'Granddaddy is here,'" Ballard said. "He didn't blink his eyes or nothing. It was sad. It was so sad."

On the afternoon of the crash, Woodmore Elementary fifth-grade teacher Tanya Victor was helping load students onto the buses when she saw Keonte. She'd never interacted much with him, but on this day, she complimented him on his shirt and bragged about how handsome he looked to another teacher. He lit up, she said.

"He ended his school day in a good mood, with the brightest smile I'd ever seen on him," she said. "I will never forget the details of those moments. I'll never forget the shirt he was wearing. I'll never forget him."

Ballard said his whole family is reeling from Keonte's death.

"His life was cut short," he said. "Maybe God had a plan. I don't know. But I'm telling you, it just really hurts."

some text
Zyanna Harris, 10, was killed in Monday's school bus crash. Photo provided by TarՄajah Rucker.

Zyanna Harris, 10: Girl had energy and spunk

Zyanna Harris' second-grade teacher once asked her to write an essay about what she'd learned in school that year.

But Zyanna was mad at her teacher that day. So she marched up to Meredith Arp's desk and handed her a piece of paper with three words scrawled on it.

"Nope, not nothing."

Arp handed the assignment right back.

Now, two years later, she laughed as she remembered the moment.

"It just shows her personality," she said. "She wasn't going to take anything from anybody."

After leaving Arp's class, Zyanna grew into a spunky 10-year-old. She died Monday when the school bus she was riding swerved off the road and into a tree.

The fourth-grader was outgoing, funny and full of sass, friends said. And she always spoke her mind, said 13-year-old Tar'Dajah Rucker.

"If she got something to tell you, she ain't going to hold back," she said. "She ain't shy."

The last time Tar'Dajah saw her friend, they climbed on treadmills in a hotel and cranked the speed up, sprinting along until they tripped, fell and went flying off.

"We were just having a time," Tar'Dajah said.

Zyanna was one of those girls who made you laugh, Arp said.

"So much energy and life," she said. "You couldn't help but laugh at her and with her at the same time. She just didn't really care what people thought about her. She just lived her own little story, and if you thought she was funny, great. And if you didn't, great."

Zyanna was close friends with 9-year-old Zoie Nash, her mom, Misti Nash, said.

The pair loved to hang out, go to sleepovers together and dance. Zoie looked up to Zyanna like a big sister.

They'd ride the bus together, and sit together too.

After the crash, first responders found the two girls' bodies together, Nash said.

She shook her head.

"The thought of not seeing them two together again is just really breaking my heart," she said.

some text
D'Myunn Brown, 6, was killed in Monday's bus crash

D'myunn Brown: Six-year-old remembered as smart, funny

Hot wings and cereal.

Those were D'Myunn Brown's favorite foods.

The kindergartner at Woodmore Elementary never, ever turned down hot wings or cereal, family said. The 6-year-old died when the school bus he was riding ran off the road and slammed into a tree on Monday.

D'Myunn's mother lost her only child.

Thin, but tall for his age, D'Myunn was smart, spontaneous and funny. He loved to play outside and be out in nature, family said, and he'd also spend hours playing games on his tablet.

He loved to learn and enjoyed school, his aunt, Sharri Brown, said.

"He was one of a kind, there will never be another D'Myunn," she said. "He's special. He's everything anyone would want in life."

He'd dance all the time, she said. Lately, he was all about dancing to "Juju on that Beat," a rap song that recently went viral on YouTube.

"He was an all-around little boy," Brown said. "He loved his mama the most."

some text
Cor'Dayja Jones, 9, died in Monday's bus crash, her family said.

Cor'Dayja Jones, 9: Fourth-grader was sweet and shy

When 9-year-old Cor'Dayja Jones wanted to tell her aunt a secret, she'd sidle up and start all sassy. Auntie, girl, let me tell you what happened...

Then she'd delve into the story, cute as a button, said her aunt, Ashley Allen.

The fourth-grader at Woodmore Elementary died Monday when the school bus she was riding in swerved off the road and slid into a tree. Allen rushed to the hospital after she heard about the crash, calling Cor'Dayja's mother over and over again.

But Cor'Dayja was already gone. When Allen finally got to her sister at the hospital, she was holding Cor'Dayja close and screaming. Look at your niece! Look at my baby!

"[Cor'Dayja] was just laying there peacefully, but bruised up," Allen said.

Both sisters broke down.

Thinking back, Allen can't come up with a single negative memory of her niece. Cor'Dayja was sweet and could be shy at times. She was sensitive, and loved to go roller-skating with friends. She sang in the children's choir at Redemption Point Church.

"She loved playing dress-up and loved for her lip gloss to be popping," Allen said.

Cor'Dayja was just three weeks shy of her 10th birthday, said her cousin LaFrederick Thirkill. Thirkill, principal of Orchard Knob Elementary School, said Cor'Dayja once was one of his students.

"She gave me a hug every day when she was out here," he said. "And I gave her a hug every day. I constantly see her at family events and my heart is truly broken for her and her mother."

As a school administrator, he never had to deal with Cor'Dayja, he added. She was well-behaved.

Her name is a mix of Cornelius, her father, and Cordarius, her older brother, Allen said. Cor'Dayja also loved being a big sister to her younger sister, Cor'Dariuna, Thirkill said.

Sometimes, she'd do or say something so grown up that all Allen could do was shake her head. And sometimes, Cor'dayja's mom would laugh and tell Allen not to blame Cor'Dayja — she was just copying Allen.

"She was my shadow," Allen said. "Day and night."

some text
Zyaira Mateen, 6, was killed in a school bus crash on Monday.

Zyaira Mateen, 6: The girl who loved to read and dance

Zyaira and Zasmyn Mateen acted like twins, even though they were born nine months apart.

The 6-year-old sisters were inseparable, each other's best friend, aunt Brieasha Brown said. If one got something, the other had to have it, too.

So, of course, they sat next to each other on the school bus.

They were side by side when that bus swerved off the road and smashed into a tree Monday.

Zyaira was gone in an instant.

Zasmyn survived.

"I've been crying so much I can't even cry no more," Brown said.

Zyaira was a smart, sharp little girl who loved to read and dance, Brown said. She adored school. Her smile lit up a room and she never hesitated to speak her mind.

"If your breath stank, she was going to tell you your breath stank," Brown said.

Zyaira went by the nickname 'Phat Phat,' while Zasmyn is called 'Bird.' Their older sister, 10-year-old Zacauree'A Brown, also survived the crash.

Sometimes the sisters talk about what they saw that afternoon, and sometimes they just cry, Brown said.

Zasmyn is still coming to understand her sister's death, she said.

"She's young. She thinks we just telling her [Zyaira] is dead and she is still going to come home," Brown said.

Now, every past moment with Zyaira is a cherished memory for Brown. There was the time they got into a food fight in a Chinese restaurant on Zyaira's fifth birthday and got kicked out. And how Zyaira would come home from school and take a nap every day during her first year. "School just wore me out," she'd say.

One September night, the first-grader sat outside with her aunt and made a confession.

A boy in her class was calling her "baby," Zyaira said. But, she said, she wasn't really into boys at the moment.

Brown told her that was good.

"Don't think about boys until you're 30," Brown said.

"30?" Zyaira protested.

"Yeah," Brown said. "Thirty. Go to college, graduate, and then think about boys."

some text
Zoie Nash, 9, was killed in a bus crash on Talley Road on Monday. Photos provided by Larry Hunt.

Zoie Nash, 9: She was cheerful and laid-back

Misti Nash lied the first time her son asked about his sister.

Zechariah Nash, 8, lay in a hospital bed with a broken arm, punctured lung, and bleeding in his stomach. Just a few months apart in age, he and sister Zoie Nash, 9, shared a special sibling bond. If you saw one, you saw the other.

Both rode bus No. 366 home from Woodmore Elementary the day it careened off the road and smashed into a tree.

Zoie didn't survive.

The first time Zechariah asked, Nash told him Zoie was asleep in another room. But when he asked again, she couldn't lie anymore.

"I told him she got her wings, she was in heaven," Nash said. "And he understood. He cried."

Zoie, a dedicated softball player, voracious eater and goofy friend, was gone.

She was a cheerful, laid-back girl who cared deeply for others, Nash said. But she transformed on the softball field into an athlete with laser focus.

"She was in a different zone," Nash said. "There wasn't nothing — it was all about getting a strike or hitting the ball and getting a home run."

Her coach, Larry Hunt, said Zoie begged to be a pitcher and had just learned to pitch. She could play anywhere on the field, he said.

"No matter whether we were winning or losing, she kept a smile on her face," he said. "She never talked back. Whatever you asked her to do, she did it."

She wore No. 1 on her jersey, he added.

"She said, 'Coach Larry, I want No. 1 because I'm going to be the best player,'" he said. "And she was my No. 1."

A fourth-grader, Zoie brought home A's and B's, Nash said. She loved to get her hair and nails done, but she could also be a tomboy. She was Nash's only daughter among five sons.

"They were very protective of her," said her uncle, Antwon McClain.

And even though Zoie was tall and thin, she could eat, Nash said. Really eat. She loved taco salad.

Sitting in the hospital a few doors down from Zechariah's room two days after the accident, Nash laughed at times, as she remembered Zoie, and also choked up.

She didn't see Zoie the day she died — her brother got her ready for school — and that's been eating at Nash. She last saw Zoie the night before, when the 9-year-old rubbed her back and put her to sleep, as she often did.

Zoie's body was found under the bus, she said. She wonders if Zoie would have suffered brain damage had she lived. Wonders what her quality of life might have been. Wonders if God called her home as a mercy.

"I had to come to terms with that," she said. "But then I also have to realize: I lost a child, but I still have my other child. [God] could have took both my children. So for him to leave me one child, I'm blessed and thankful and happy about that. And I can see Zoie through him."

ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT