As students were called out class by the “Grim Reaper,” their classmates were forced to think about the unimaginable: Losing a fellow classmate to a bad decision.
But for Phyllis Mitchell of Scottdale, that reality is what she faces each and every day.
“You never get over the death of your child,” said Mrs. Mitchell. She lost her only child, Amanda, on June 22, 2010 in a vehicle accident that occurred two weeks after graduation. Her life hasn’t been the same since…and never will be.
Grim Reaper Day at Southmoreland is a day dedicated to bringing awareness to teenage deaths. Fifty students participated in the event, “dying” to show the students what it would be like if they were merely a memory. For the entire day, these students were unable to talk, participate in class activities, or be on their phones.
“It was awful watching my friend being taken from my class,” said sophomore Morgan Conty. “Her desk was just empty for the rest of the time. It was surreal.”
The Grim Reaper and assistant, striking a “gong” to symbolize a death caused by a bad decision, eerily roam the halls of Southmoreland High School once each year, not speaking and not interacting with anyone. Each time the gong rings, a new “soul” is taken from the classroom. But at the end of the day, these students are able to return home on their buses and go back to normal life.
But for Phyllis Mitchell, Grim Reaper Day became all too real when her daughter Amanda’s life was abruptly taken from her. The accident occurred nearly six years ago when the person driving the car in which she was traveling lost control and flipped over, killing her.
For Phyllis Mitchell, the gong of Grim Reaper day has never stopped sounding for her since that day.
Classmates remember Amanda Mitchell as a girl with a heart of gold and a desire to spread her kindness to everyone she knew. Her mother said that Amanda loved Scottdale, where she spent most of her days spending time with her friends and family, who meant the world to her.
Mrs. Mitchell has felt the heartache of not only losing her daughter, but losing her husband in 1998 when her daughter was only 4 years old. Michael J. Mitchell’s death was caused by a vehicular accident as well, two minutes away from their home.
“It was hard being a mom and a dad at the same time, but I believed Amanda turned out to be a beautiful woman.” Mrs. Mitchell said.
Amanda Mitchell wrote a senior column in the high school’s student newspaper, the Tam O’ Shanter, just before she graduated. The column focused on her father’s death in a car accident when she was just 6.
“Oct. 7, 1998. I will always remember that date as the day my life changed completely, indescribably, forever,” Mitchell wrote. ” … My Dad died in a car accident, not even two minutes away from my house.”
Amanda ended her senior column with a message for her fellow graduates.
“Life is about the people you meet along the way, the lessons you learn, and how you decide to live the life you were given,” she wrote.
Mitchell had big plans on attending LaRoche college for international business. Her whole future was ahead of her as she graduated that spring, getting ready to move forward into her new chapter in life. Mitchell’s mother said her daughter impacted so many people she knew around her, including friends and teachers.
“Amanda was just an all around wonderful person,” Mrs. Mitchell said. “She was very intelligent, and she had a lot of friends that she cared about.”
On a summer evening in June, Amanda Mitchell was riding in a car with three of her friends when suddenly the driver, Gregory Reshenberg, lost control of the car on Route 819 in East Huntingdon and hit a utility pole, according to state police. Four people were in that car along with Reshenberg. Derek Miller, 20, of Grindstone, Fayette County and Frank Kuhns, 19, of Donegal were among those in the car who were transported to a Pittsburgh hospital with injuries.
But Mitchell’s life was abruptly taken from her, and the following morning, a Tuesday at 7:20, Amanda Mitchell was pronounced dead at Presbyterian University Hospital in Pittsburgh.
Since her tragic death in 2010, Mitchell’s boyfriend Andrew Davis (Y108 Andy in the morning) erected a roadside memorial along Route 819 near Busy Beaver, where he occasionally visits along with her mother.
“I didn’t want it at first, I didn’t want to be reminded,” Mrs. Mitchell explained. “It’s something you see and everyone knows. I take care of it now and make sure it’s kept nice. (Andy) made it by hand.”
Mrs. Mitchell visits the grave on her daughter’s birthday, death day, and holidays.
“Her favorite flowers were pink roses,” Mrs. Mitchell said.
Amanda Mitchell has not been forgotten though, even as the years have gone by, she continues to impact people’s lives. One of her long time friends, Sara Garsteck, recently gave birth to a daughter and named her middle name Amanda in honor of her friend, according to Mrs. Mitchell.
Amanda Mitchell has not only been kept in her friends and family’s hearts, but she has also saved lives of people she did not get the chance to meet. She was an organ donor, and her organs were used to save the lives of three people, her mother said. One of Mitchell’s kidneys was given to a girl who played volleyball, just like she did. Her liver went to a boy in Latrobe, which saved his life. Her other kidney was utilized, but Mrs. Mitchell does not know who it was given to. Even after her death, Amanda Mitchell still touches the lives of many, strangers as well. Her “heart of gold” continues well beyond her own life.
As the days continue, Mrs. Mitchell still deals with the struggles of losing her family. Mitchell’s favorite holiday used to be Christmas, but it doesn’t feel the same to her without her beloved daughter there.
“She’s my shining armor, my angel; I think of her 24/7,” Mrs. Mitchell said. “I remember everything about her. She keeps me going.”