Former SM North student Ryder Spillman’s memorial service ended over an hour ago, but his closest friends couldn’t break away from the burial ground; they feared that if they left his side, they might lose him forever. So they held hands in silence. Remembering Ryder.
Fighting off tears, Ryder’s girlfriend, North sophomore Meagan Jones, thought about the time he took his shirt off for her because she was cold on the Ferris wheel. She thought about the time he received $1,000 from his grandparents and spent $600 of it on shoes and clothes for her. She thought about the time he walked three blocks in the snow to get her a packet of barbecue sauce mistakenly left out of their Burger King order.
On the other side of the circle, Ryder’s best friend, North sophomore Abby McCrary, thought about the time he brought her a Dr. Pepper when she was feeling down. She thought about how he could cheer her up no matter what the situation. She thought about his characteristic long, dark hair and ear-to-ear smile.
As cars started to pull away from Maple Hills Funeral Home on that Sunday morning, the group remembered the little things about their friend. They remembered how he would sometimes put on a fake mustache and ride around Roeland Park Skate Park. They remembered the videos he made with Jones where he talked about jumping off the moon and the water breaking his fall. They remembered his quirky mannerisms, his smile that could light up a room, his big heart and all the things they would never get to see again.
Standing in the empty funeral home, they remembered Ryder.
“I couldn’t go away from him. I just had to stay there,” McCray said. “It was the last couple moments I had with Ryder forever. I just couldn’t leave.”
* * *
Ryder was shot four times in the chest.
According to the police reports, Ryder’s body was discovered the morning of Sunday, April 24 by children at Thomas A. Edison Elementary School. Since then, East students Stephen and Shane Reed were arrested and tried by the Wyandotte County District Attorney’s office. Stephen, 16, was charged with first degree murder and criminal possession of a firearm by a juvenile. Shane, 17, was also charged with criminal possession of a firearm by a juvenile, as well as aiding a felon.
Theresa Reed, mother of Stephen and Shane, said in an interview to NBC action news that Stephen told her “it was an accident.” She said that they did it out of fear and in defense of themselves. A court decision has not yet been reached yet on whether the incident was in self-defense or premeditated, but they are currently in custody.
Jones still may not be able to understand entirely what happened, but she can feel it. She still wakes up in the morning wishing he was here. At school, she looks to the lockers where he would meet her everyday and imagines him being there.
She misses the small things he would do, like wait for her and eat lunch by her side. It took Jones five days until she even felt comfortable enough to return back to SM North. Even now, it still doesn’t feel right to her.
“You can try to convince yourself that it didn’t happen, that it’s not real, that you’ll see him tomorrow or he’ll text you,” Jones said. “But in the end, it’s not.”
* * *
The morning of Sunday the 24th, Jones got the call.
Nikki Reed, who had been good friends with both Ryder and Jones, was on the other end crying. Her voice was muffled. With her words barely audible, she told Jones what she knew.
“I heard he got shot,” she said solemnly. “I don’t know if it’s true but that’s what I—”
Jones hung up the phone before she could hear what Nikki had to say. Her good friend Amber Bledsoe was beeping in. Bledsoe told her more of the same. Ryder had been shot. It was a rumor, she didn’t know if it was true—but she heard that he was shot.
Jones frantically went to her phone to look for any texts. She looked for an indicator as to where Ryder might be or why no one had heard from him. Nothing. Ryder was supposed to come over later that day for Easter brunch. Jones had been running errands earlier in the day, and they were getting ready for a big family meal. Clutching the phone in her hand, pacing around her house, she texted her boyfriend.
“Ryder where are you?”
“Ryder, where the f — are you?!?”
She started calling all of her contacts to see if they had known where he was. She asked Ryder’s friends, SM West sophomore Garrett Liffick and McCrary, if they had known, since they had been with him just yesterday. She had hoped that one of them would reply with an answer that explained everything. That Ryder was just hiding away at a friend’s house or disappearing randomly like he did so often. But no one knew where he was.
Without any hesitation, she got in her sister’s car and left.
“There was an old lady driving in front of us, on the whole road,” Jones said. “We ended up going around her…and right as we went around her we saw down the hill. We saw the cop cars parked beside his apartment.”
Still not sure what had happened to Ryder, she jumped out of the car and ran towards the apartment complex. As she was walking in, Jones saw a crowd in the front yard. She saw Ryder’s mom Michelle Spillman. She was crying.
Without getting a chance to ask him what had happened, Jones was grabbed by a policeman.
“Who are you? How do you know Ryder? Did you talk to him yesterday?”
Jones couldn’t speak. She wished they could only understand. She wished they would realize that she was not a problem, that she was Ryder’s girlfriend—the girl who he would do anything for. But she felt like a victim.
As Jones exited the police car, she finally got a chance to ask the cop what had happened. She asked him if Ryder was OK.
“What happened?” Jones said nervously.
“He was shot.”
“Is he in the hospital? Is he OK?”
There was a pause.
“He’s at the morgue.”
* * *
Jones sat in her bed staring up at the ceiling on that Easter night.
Keeping her company were her friends Erin, Emily and Kelsey, as well as her sister Sarah. At any other time, having the girls over would be a cause for celebration. They often liked to paint their nails or watch Jones’ favorite show “Policewomen of Memphis.”
But tonight, they sat in silence. Crying to themselves. Exchanging no words, they tried to process what had happened. They tried to understand how and why he was murdered. As they sat in the dark room, it was only just starting to sink in. Ryder was dead.
“I can’t even explain it,” Jones said. “It was the worst feeling. Feeling like you were being ripped in half.”
Her best friends tried to console her as they laid with her on the bed, but there was nothing to be done but cry. Jones had lost not only her boyfriend or a relationship status on Facebook, she lost the love of her life. Ryder and Jones, for as long as they can remember, had said that they were going to get married. Their first child would be named Julian, after Ryder’s brother. Jones knew that it would be “just me and him, always.”
She still can remember how they became a couple in World History in eighth grade. She slipped him a note during class that read “I kind of like somebody.” After he got that note, they were together up until his death. Ryder always told her how he was scared to talk to her in that moment; scared to even ask her out.
As Jones laid in the dark room that night, she cried herself to sleep. She thought about how she would never see him again. McCrary, who laid in her own bed on this Sunday night, thought about the plans they had that would never happen.
“We had talked about how we might move in together, we had talked about later after high school, you know, we had just talked about life and what we were planning on doing,” McCrary said. “I was in the mindset that I was going to have him in my life…for the rest of my life.”
A week after his death, Jones invited all of her friends over to make cupcakes for Ryder’s fundraiser benefiting the Spillman family. The group was packed into her small kitchen, consisting of her friends Byron, Devon, Clint, Tyler, Emily, Erin, Kelsey, Sarah, Tiffany and many others squeezed into the tight space. They frosted the cupcakes with Ryder’s favorite color purple. As they started to write the white R’s on the top of each one, they shared stories.
The group went around the circle and talked about the moments they could never forget. A week ago, they were in tears and unwilling to accept their best friend was dead. Today, they laughed.
They reminisced about how he would show up late for school every day with a phony excuse. How one time he had told his first hour class a wild story that he had set his phone alarm and his stove alarm, explaining that at some point during the night the power must have gone out and restarted the clocks.
Someone in the room spoke up about the time Ryder accidentally broke Clint’s slingshot that they used to shoot marbles with. They remembered how it was made of a rubber band and Ryder fixed it for Clint. They thought about Clint’s surprised facial expression on that day, and how he was so grateful.
The light shining in through the kitchen window as the cupcakes sat frosted on the counter, they remembered the goofiest things he did. The things they hated at the time but now miss. They thought about his silly demeanor, dumb jokes and they kept coming back to the phrases he always said that made no sense to them like “Pull the ol’ wool over your eyes,” or “Ryde says no cry.”
On this Monday morning, there was no crying.
* * *
When people remember the life of Ryder, his friends don’t want it to be associated with sadness.
Ryder himself was the most at peace of anyone they knew. He never attended church, but his friends recount that he had strong faith and ideals. Jones remembers how she questioned God when she lost her grandmother to cancer; she doubted that she would ever see her again. Ryder was the one that was there to tell her “you will see her again in heaven.”
“He would always be the one to tell me like well ‘God’s watching over you’ and ‘God’s going to help you.’ And I’d be like ‘But what if there is no God? What if there is no heaven?’ Jones said. “He would just reassure me like, there is a heaven, there is a God.”
Whether it be sharing his faith with others, or showing up late to school, Ryder has been remembered in the wake of his death. He has been remembered by many as the goofy kid with long hair and a big smile. He has been remembered as the guy that was always at the skate park perfecting tricks. For those who didn’t know him, he has been remembered as the North kid that was shot and killed.
His friends hope he is remembered for his kindness.
On Facebook, an event was created, aptly named “Remember Ryder.” The event currently has 570 people listed as attending, posting on the page memories, as well as thoughts about his life. Of the 570, many come from both North and East. At East, there has been a flood of outreach and support for the lost life of Ryder. Students have adorned “Remember Ryder” tee-shirts as well as wear purple bracelets with the funds going to the Spillman family. Sophomore Taylor Estrella was one of Ryder’s good friends and recalls his kindness.
“He was just such—like he had such a big heart. He had such a big heart,” Estrella said. “If you were sad, he’d just make you happy immediately.”
Seventy-two people to date have posted on the Facebook wall. People as close as family and as distant as mere acquaintances have left their thoughts about him. They’ve shared stories, left condolences, posted pictures, planned events and, above all else, remembered Ryder.
On April 26 at 4:52 p.m., Jones posted her final thoughts about her boyfriend.
“We used to talk about death all the time. I remember something he once said to me ‘Meagan, I don’t want to be an old man who dies in his sleep. I wanna be remembered.’”
To those who knew Ryder, he will be just that: remembered.