Accidental shooting claims teacher’s life

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A growing memorial honoring Holy Family School teacher Mrs. Emiley Thibodeaux (top left) was created after her accidental shooting death on Feb. 5; Mrs. Thibodeaux’s third-grade students Megan Riddle (top right) and Isabelle Hernandez (bottom left) place owls on her memorial. Photos by Penny Saia and Debbie Shelley | The Catholic Commentator

 

By Debbie Shelley

The Catholic Commentator

Emiley Gassie Thibodeaux’s joyful and maternal spirit won the hearts of the Holy Family School and Church family during the first-year teacher’s time with the school. Many are mourning her loss after her tragic death on February

Thibodeaux, 23, was accidentally shot by her husband Ivy “Trey” Thibodeaux, 29, an Addis police officer, as he was cleaning his gun, according to state police.

A growing memorial honoring Thibodeaux was set up outside of the school, which had colors of aqua, pink, green and purple, the colors of her classroom, and stuffed owls. People stopped over the weekend to pay their respects, signing and posting notes to a board and leaving memorial trinkets.

“People are at different stages of mourning as they found out during the (Mardi Gras) holiday weekend,” noted Vincel Simpson, who has taught at Holy Family for 20 of her 29 years of teaching.

Counselors, including those from the Diocese of Baton Rouge, met with the students and family members when they returned to school Feb. 10.

Simpson, a Holy Family alum, said Thibodeaux took her place when she became the coordinator of religious education and religion teacher.

“I always felt so touched and honored to teach in the same classroom that I was in when in third grade. To pass that on to someone as dear as her, it meant the world to me,” said Simpson.

Simpson will step back in to teach Thibodeaux’s class for the remainder of the school year. She said it is as if Thibodeaux signals her approval, as every time she does something for her, the church bells chime.

She also seeks Thibodeaux’s guidance as she steps back into the third-grade classroom.

“When I prayed in her classroom I said, ‘Emiley, I’m going to need your help, because I’m about to take over your babies and finish out the year. Help me to love your babies like you do,’ ” said Simpson.

She said that Holy Family has been tested on its theme this year, a Family of Faith: a student received a serious medical diagnosis, another student is in the intensive care unit after he and his family were involved in a serious vehicle accident, and the death of coach Robert Landry in December. Yet, she felt the outpouring of love from the school, church and community has increased its faith.

Students, faculty and parents expressed their appreciation for Thibodeaux’s outpouring of love to all she encountered.

“She (Thibodeaux) loved teaching and she loved her students,” said Michael Comeau, principal of Holy Family School. “She always had a smile on her face and was always helping around school.”

He said the school will take time to grieve, reflect on Thibodeaux’s life and then move forward with activities because he believes that is what she would want for the students.

Jennifer Gueho, another Holy Family alum and reading interventionist at the school, said, “She was a joy to be with and she had an infectious spirit in working with the faculty as well as the students. You can hear laughter from her room as you walked down the hall. There was always that spirit of laughter and calming, motherly effect from her.”

Gueho’s son, Philip, was a student in Thibodeaux’s class.

“She accepted and loved Philip as a mother would,” Gueho said.

Phillip Gueho said, “When we laughed, she laughed with us.”

Gueho’s family released balloons from their home in Thibodeaux’s honor. Philip also wrote a note to her which said, “You are the mother butterfly, and we are your babies. You led us to become a good student.” He attached it to a butterfly memento and placed it at her memorial.

The newly-minted teacher had a gift for making all her students feel special.

Isabelle Hernandez, who is in Thibodeaux’s class, said with eyes brimming with tears that she wanted Thibodeaux to know that she loved her, missed her and was praying for her. She and her family lit a candle for her. Isabelle also blew bubbles because on the day of Thibodeaux’s death, the school culminated the celebration of Catholic Schools Week by blowing bubbles, something Thibodeaux relished in doing.

Related to that, Simpson said she had told the faculty and students to make a special prayer request in their hearts before blowing the bubbles. She said two kindergarten teachers near Thibodeaux’s class reported that a gust of wind swooped her students’ smaller bubbles and formed a larger bubble, which hovered over Thibodeaux and the crepe myrtle she was standing next to. About an hour-and-a half later she died.

Megan LeBlanc, Thibodeaux’s best friend since they attended pre-kindergarten at the former St. John School in Brusly and bridesmaid in her wedding last May, said with emotion that the two celebrated each others’ success in obtaining teaching positions. Thibodeaux, who started teaching in January 2015, was supportive and helped LeBlanc as she prepared to teach second grade at Valverda Elementary School in Maringouin in August.

“We had a lot of fun together,” said LeBlanc, who described her friend as nurturing, caring and a “wonderful person.”

“I want to have the patience she had,” LeBlanc said.

Father Matt Lorrian, pastor of St. John in Brusly, where Thibodeaux’s funeral Mass was held and who married the Thibodeauxs, said, “It’s been a painful experience for the entire church and for Trey and Emily’s families. They (Trey and Emily) were so in love.

“It’s a tragedy when a young person loses his or her life, whether it’s through illness or an accident. It makes you realize how fragile life is. It makes you realize how special that person is. She (Thibodeaux) is very loved in the community.”

Father David Allen, pastor of Holy Family Church, said of Thibodeaux, “For such a young woman, she had a great spiritual maturity and presence.”

When faced with tragedy, the first reaction may be to ask, “Why,” said Father Allen. He noted Christians should change the question to, “What do we do next?” and “Who do we become?” This allows for a more wholesome or “wholy” approach when a crisis occurs.

Prayer, receiving the sacraments, especially reconciliation, and helping others are means of doing this. Father Allen said the owl, which Thibodeaux decorated her classroom with, stands as a reminder for the students to do this.

“Jesus’ great mission was not as much what he said as what he did. By praying and reaching out to others, we bring peace, hope and healing,” Father Allen said.