At 4 a.m. Saturday, the loud ping of his e-mail woke Edward Small from a deep sleep. The Academy Park High School principal knew immediately that the message was not going to be good news.
Before he did anything else, he prayed.
Hours earlier, two 15-year-old freshmen, Michael J. Taylor and Mark McNeill, were hit by a speeding car as they walked across Chester Pike in Glenolden, Small would learn. Taylor died at the scene, McNeill on Saturday afternoon. The two Collingdale teens had just walked two girls back to their homes so they would be safe.
Charges against the alleged driver of the car, Maurquis Javon Thompson, 19, of Chester, will be amended this week to reflect the deaths of both teens, according to the Delaware County District Attorney's Office. He is charged with homicide by vehicle, fleeing an officer, driving under the influence, and other related crimes in the death of Taylor. He was being held on $1 million bail. He did not have a lawyer.
According to court records, Thompson was trying to flee a traffic stop when he allegedly ran a red light, struck the two teens, and fled. He abandoned the Chevrolet Lumina, owned by a friend, in Norwood. Police stopped him a few blocks away.
The vehicle's owner told police that she received the text message "report car stolen" from Thompson shortly after the time the teens were hit. She then called Thompson and he told her he "panicked and tried to get away and then he hit someone and then he ran," according to court documents.
Police found a bag that appeared to contain marijuana and a "clear quart-size bottle in a brown paper bag" in the car, according to court documents.
Thompson is awaiting trial in another case involving drug and weapons offenses. He pleaded guilty to possession of drugs and drug paraphernalia in a 2010 case and received two years' probation, according to court records.
On Monday, extra counselors and crisis specialists from Project REACH were on hand at Academy Park for both students and staff. The library was set aside for those who needed the support or who wanted to talk.
Small remembered both students as good kids.
McNeill liked to put in his ear buds at lunch and dance to his favorite music, Small said. A student told him that McNeill, who liked to ice skate, wanted to learn how to stop quickly. When he tried, the two students fell on top of each other and ended up laughing.
Taylor, he said, was easy to read and "didn't have a good poker face." Small's last conversation with him was on Thursday in a math class when the two talked about what was happening in class.
Small is sure both students would want others to remember them in a positive way and for the things they did that made others laugh.
As a principal, it was not the first time Small had to deal with the loss of a student or teacher in the school of 1,300 in Sharon Hill.
Three other students and a teacher have died in the seven years he has been with the Southeast Delco School District. One, senior Anirah Carter, died in January after being hit by a car. Small still has the newspaper clippings in his office.
"It is a tough struggle," Small said about coping with the losses.
Small said he drew on his own experiences with grief, and the close support of his family, including the advice of an older brother who is an assistant principal in another district.
"It is OK to cry," he said. "It helps to mourn and get through the situation. So, why not cry?"
There was a range of emotions in the school on Monday, Small said. Some students cried and talked openly, others opted to stay in class. He has seen upper school students going to the aid of freshmen, and students consoling teachers.
"I am never more proud of my students when they look adversity in the face and have it look away," Small said. "This is one of those days."
Small gives credit to the tightly knit moral fabric of the community, a built-in support system in tragic times.
"The support in our school is really unrivaled," he said.
The future will hold the hard anniversaries that grief brings that the students, staff, and community will need to deal with, Small said.
"Courage is never called upon at a time of our own choosing," Small said. "It is the unexpected event that pulls it out of you."
The boys had been friends since first grade, when they were students at St. Joseph's School in Collingdale. Separate services will be held at St. Joseph's Church, 500 Woodlawn Ave., this week.
There will be a viewing for Michael Taylor on Wednesday from 4 to 9 p.m. On Thursday, there is another viewing from 9 a.m. to 10:45 a.m. followed by a Funeral Mass at 11.
Viewings for McNeill will be Friday from 4 to 9 p.m. and Saturday from 9 to 11 a.m., followed by a Funeral Mass at 11.