When members of this year’s senior class of Chico High School lost their fifth-grade teacher, Jennifer Moss, in a freak accident, they didn’t understand the impact her memory and that experience would have on them.
“We were old enough to know what happened, but I don’t think we fully comprehended,” Hannah Avants said. “Now we’re graduating as such a tight-knit group, and I think a lot of it has to do with the bond we formed as we dealt with her death.”
Moss died Feb. 3, 2005, in an auto accident near her home on Texas 101, north of Chico. She was southbound on the state highway when part of the drive shaft fell off a northbound pumper truck, bounced off the pavement, went through Moss’s windshield and struck her in the head, according to a story in the Sunday, Feb. 6, 2005, edition of the Messenger.
Her sport-utility vehicle hit a street sign and landed in a ditch after impact. She was pronounced dead at the scene. Moss was 48 years old.
The death of the beloved, 13-year teacher at Chico Elementary left a void in the hearts of many of her students, particularly those who were in her class when she died.
“That was the first person most of us had ever lost, so it was pretty impacting,” Molli Umphress said. “She is the reason why we’re so close as a class. We’re all friends. At an early age, we experienced the effects of death and loss, together.”
Although it was seven years ago, the students vividly remember where they were when they heard the news.
“I found out the next morning,” Casey Tate said. “I woke up from a nightmare of my dog dying, crying, and my mom thought I had found out what happened. It was crazy to think someone you saw every day was gone.”
Umphress recalled: “We were in the car on our way home from the Fort Worth Stock Show. My parents knew but had been waiting to tell us. But my mom was crying, and my dad was on the phone trying to figure out what was going on. It was chaotic, I was confused, and I started to worry. Finally my mom turned around to the back seat, where I was, and told me.
“When we got to town, we drove to Malori’s house. I remember just hugging and crying.”
Malori Moss felt the impact on a more personal level. The teacher was also her great-aunt.
“I went to the scene of the accident,” she said. “I was in the living room, and my mom went in there and told us to get in the car, that Jennifer had been in an accident, and it didn’t look good. My mom didn’t want my dad to drive or leave us by ourselves, so we had to go.
“It was awful. It’s a blur now, but I remember it being awkward, chaotic. There were people everywhere. It made me sick to my stomach.”
Just as well, the students can recall their feelings the following day at school.
“I remember fighting with my dad about going to school,” Cassie Martin said. “I didn’t want to, but he really pushed me to go so we could all be there for one another. And I’m grateful that he did. We were a support group for one another.”
“It was surreal,” Umphress added. “We couldn’t understand. Why her?”
“Our class loved dodgeball,” Moss said. “That was our game. I remember going to P.E. and our teacher announcing we were going to play dodgeball that day, but nobody wanted to.”
“There was a lot of confusion, a lot of shock,” Avants said. “We didn’t think it was real. There were so many questions. They had counselors set up in the computer lab to talk to, but the best therapy was among ourselves. I remember going home and sleeping so long because I had cried so much. We were drained, but it was so helpful to go through that together.”
As the seniors prepare to graduate Friday, they reflect on Moss’s lasting memory – her obsession with Mickey Mouse, a can of Diet Rite Cola always in hand, the journal writing and “15 billion assignments for every spelling word set,” her “electric” personality and a “smile that could light up a room.”
They remember her helpfulness:
“Even though I was awful in English, she helped me understand a lot,” Tate recalled. “That day that she passed away, I remember being so happy with her because I finally passed a spelling test I’d been struggling with. I was so excited, and she was even happier for me.”
They remember her fairness:
“I remember one time I just got up and announced that I was going to take an AR (Accelerated Reader) test, and she said, ‘No! You sign up like everyone else!,’” Moss said. “I knew her as family, so I thought I would get little special privileges, but no. She even made me sit in at recess once for forgetting to get my folder signed.”
“It shows how fair she was,” Martin pointed out.
They remember her diligence:
“She expected everybody to work hard,” Umphress said. “She was well-respected by everybody. You didn’t want to get in trouble with her.”
Moss added: “Whenever she said jump, it was, ‘how high, Mrs. Moss?, You didn’t question her.”
But most of all, they remember her way of uniting their class and molding its successes.
“The impact of the loss our class experienced in fifth grade was tragic,” Clayton Stephens wrote in a tribute to Moss. “Nobody really understood how to react to the situation because we were so young. As we got older though, we realized how much of an impact she had on us and how it was to lose her.”
Members of this year’s senior class at Chico High School who were in Jennifer Moss’ class when she died Feb. 3, 2005, wrote tributes to their teacher.
The rest are as follows:
“My fifth-grade year is a year I will never forget. Mrs. Moss was one of the liveliest people I had ever met. I loved being in her homeroom. Even though I was awful in English, she helped me understand a lot. She was patient and kind-hearted. I loved her laugh; it always made me smile. She was a great woman. I honestly still miss her, and I am so grateful for having her as a teacher. She changed my life.”
- Casey Tate
“Mrs. Moss was one of the best English teachers I ever had. I learned so much in those first few months of school. One of my favorite memories of her was her penny loafers that she always wore, but she had placed dimes in them instead of pennies. I remember thinking that they were so cool. She also loved Mickey Mouse, and now every time I see Mickey, I think of her.”
- Sarah Evans
“Mrs. Moss was such a nice and wonderful teacher. She was always in a good mood and always had a smile on her face. She was and always will be one of my favorite teachers.”
- Victor Velazquez
“Ms. Moss will be forever missed. She was a great teacher, but also an amazing person. She made a lasting impression on my life, and I will never forget her.”
- Sabian Williams
“Mrs. Moss was a wonderful teacher. She was loved by all of us. The day she passed away was one I could never forget. My older brothers and I were sitting in the room playing video games when my mom came in to tell me, ‘Chris, I don’t know how to tell you this, but your teacher has passed away.’ In that moment, I had no idea what to do or how to handle the issue. The next day at school, everyone was crying, mourning her death. The bell rang for class, and I started walking down the hallway knowing she was gone forever. There would be no more ‘good mornings’ or anything like that. It was sad to lose her, but she will always be with us in our hearts.”
- Chris Guess
“Mrs. Moss was my fifth-grade teacher. I remember I was a little scared of her at first. She seemed strict, but she was really nice. When I was in fourth grade, I remember walking down the hall and passing her class. They were always working or reading. I always thought, ‘Oh, next year is going to be terrible!’ But it wasn’t. I remember we had to stand up in front of our entire class and say our nickname and why people called us that … We planted a tree at the park to remember her. She will always be remembered.”
- Perla Jaime
“Mrs. Moss was a wonderful woman. I remember her helping me with all the problems I had. She is one of my favorite teachers. I always enjoyed her classes. We all loved you, Mrs. Moss.”
- Nate Dawson
“Mrs. Moss will forever remain a part of my life. She was a fantastic teacher, person and friend to all. I will always remember her smile. I still remember when she helped me improve my poetry. I will hold her memory in my heart forever.”
- Courtney Smith
“I remember I was always excited to go to Mrs. Moss’s class. She was always really nice. Her room was decorated with Mickey Mouse. She was very creative and was always smiling. Never once was there a time that she was not smiling. She had an impact on a lot of people. She will be forever missed and always in our hearts.”
- Haley Byers