At 7 years old, Kennedy Marie Handley had forged a reputation as a formidable cuddler.
Kennedy had a unique talent for making her classmates feel like their best friend. The second year student from Paradise loved animals and playing football. Her favorite color was purple.
According to those who knew Kennedy and watched her grow up, there was something pure about her: unconditional kindness.
“She hugged with everything she had,” said Jessica Valencia, a close friend of the family.
These are some of the lasting memories of Kennedy, who died Saturday night after an accident at a quinceañera near Rhome.
Following the crash, which the Wise County Sheriff’s Office said was caused by a collapsing wooden arch, classmates, friends and strangers wore purple shirts, with the message “Live Like Kennedy”, as his sudden loss reverberates through the community.
As a child, Kennedy left a legacy, Valencia said.
“His mother said, ‘If you want to honor Kennedy’s memory and his legacy, be kind, offer grace, be a friend, let go of grudges, and don’t take tomorrow for granted,'” Valencia said. personally, I feel that in my heart.”
The crash happened Saturday night in the 200 block of County Road 4651 near Rhome. The crash was reported shortly before 10 p.m. According to Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Kennedy was playing with other local children before the arch collapsed. Kennedy was pronounced dead after being taken to Cook Children’s Hospital.
As students returned to class on Tuesday, crisis counselors were at Paradise ISD to help students and staff deal with the loss. Paradise ISD lost one of its students, who was the daughter of Brenda Handley, a school district social worker.
As the district mourned, Handley returned to work Tuesday. From her desk, she looked up and saw the classroom where Kennedy was learning and the locker where the 7-year-old kept her things.
“I knew it was going to be tough, but I feel his presence there,” Brenda Handley said. “I love going to work and Kennedy loves going to school. She loved this place and that’s why I find so much comfort in going back.
Handley said she and her family are going through the tragedy one breath at a time.
It’s been hard and the grief comes in waves.
“As a social worker, I sat across from people, children and adults, and told them the infamous line of taking things one day at a time,” she said. . “I never realized until now – when I was in the hospital and realized this was our story and how it was going to be – that it wasn’t one day at a time. , or one minute at a time. It’s literally one breath at a time and that’s how we take it.
Handley said she witnessed the power of community as people from Wise County and beyond rallied around her family. Since Tuesday, surrounding school districts, students, teachers and sports teams have shown their support by wearing purple shirts and ribbons on their uniforms. T-shirts and helmet stickers are made for Kennedy, and a steady stream of meals are prepared for the Handley family.
There will be a candlelight vigil for Kennedy at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Paradise ISD’s Panther Stadium.
“People just want to help,” said family friend Shauna Walker.
Within three days, a GoFundMe campaign originally created to help cover funeral expenses (wcmess.com/livelikekennedy) topped $25,000, well past the $5,000 goal. There are plans to create a scholarship with the proceeds in honor of Kennedy’s legacy.
“It was beautiful and overwhelming in such an incredible way. It’s our toddler radiating through all of these people,” Handley said.
Through mourning, people who knew Kennedy and the Handley family shared memories on a dedicated Facebook group.
One post shows a lady who had fashioned a bracelet with the girl’s name and another is from a person in Indianapolis who said they were going to perform an act of kindness, as Kennedy would. Another recounted the time the Handley family visited their land and Kennedy was photographed holding a goat.
“That smile said it all,” the post said.
The memories posted paint a colorful picture of the little girl who smiled toothily, wore number 12 on her football shirt and, over the course of seven years, touched the lives of people she met.
Handley mentioned a story from a relative of one of Kennedy’s classmates. The parents’ son was new to school, and Kennedy befriended him this year. The parent said his son comes home every day, mentioning his new friend Kennedy.
“There were so many kids saying the same thing, that she was such a good friend that made them feel like her best friend,” Handley said. “It embodies who she was.”