BRIDGEWATER — She was only there for three months, but Cyndal Lynn Ward’s presence will continue to be felt by the many friends she made in her short time at Turner Ashby High School.
Classmates describe the 17-year-old as outgoing, vibrant and unassuming, with a smile you wouldn’t easily forget.
That Ward, who died Wednesday of injuries sustained in a car crash on Tuesday near Clover Hill, could have a profound impact in such a short amount of time speaks to the character and personality those closest to her have always known about her.
Carson Gaskins, her grandfather, said she packed a lot of life in her short time on Earth, serving as an example of how others should live.
“Always look at life as a gift and live in the present,” he said Sunday to about 300 people gathered for a memorial service in TA’s theater.
‘True Cyndal Fashion’
Ward was driving a 2005 Nissan Altima with Jackson Reel, 16, of Hinton, in the passenger seat on Tuesday afternoon when the car went off the right side of Coopers Mill Road on a curve and struck a tree.
Reel, also a junior, died at the scene of the crash.
The couple had recently started dating and attended TA’s homecoming together.
Ward was born in Harrisonburg but moved to Newport News with her mother, Corina Johnson, a year later. Her family returned to the Valley just before the start of the school year.
At first, Ward didn’t like the idea of leaving her home to move to the Valley, said Robert Gutierrez, Johnson’s boyfriend who was like a father to the girl.
“But in true Cyndal fashion, she took it as an opportunity to grow and shine and she jumped in with both feet as many of you here can attest to,” said Gutierrez, reading a speech prepared by Johnson.
“I shouldn’t have been surprised at how quickly she fit in here at Turner Ashby High School.”
A ‘Sparkly’ Personality
Ward enjoyed playing the guitar and singing.
Friends say she was anxiously awaiting the arrival of a ukulele she had ordered shortly before she died.
But it was the theater, according to her mother, that was her “first love.”
Early in Ward’s life, Johnson would carry her daughter in her arms while singing and dancing to her. Her mother believes those times instilled in Ward a love of singing and dancing.
Her mother also introduced her to musicals and old movie stars like Ginger Davis and Fred Astaire.
Ward’s first major play, “Wait Until Dark,” transformed her from “an awkward pre-teen girl to this self-confident, bigger-than-life young lady,” Gutierrez read.
It was this extroverted, kind girl that Turner Ashby students and teachers got to meet this year.
“I only knew her for three months, but I feel like I knew her my whole life,” said Katie Fawley, 15, who had drama classes with Ward.
It takes a special person to make such an impact, her friends say.
“She was sparkly,” said Rebecca Clark, 17, a senior at TA.
“As soon as they introduced us, we were automatically friends with her,” Clark said.
Cara Myrtle, a 17-year-old senior, said Ward affected people who didn’t even know her, as evidenced by many at Sunday’s memorial who hadn’t met her.
“She was very honest, open,” Myrtle said.
Those qualities made her a friend to anyone who met her, said Shayna Carter, a 16-year-old junior.
“She reached out to everybody. She would listen to everything you had to say,” she said. “She was the easiest person to talk to in the world.”
And that’s why her short time at Turner Ashby, friends say, won’t be forgotten.
At the close of Sunday’s service, held at the theater where Ward had recently begun to grace the stage, the audience gave her a fitting sendoff: a standing ovation.
Contact Jeremy Hunt at 574-6273 or email@example.com