Nicole Marie McCarty turned 16 on Sunday, March 20. Two days later, she was dead.
"When I got home about 4:10 p.m., a chaplain greeted me at the door," said her father, Mike McCarty of Little Rocky Run. "I was shocked."
A sophomore at Centreville High, Nicole was attractive and well-liked. She'd pitched JV softball and, this year, made the varsity. Her parents and relatives loved her deeply, and she had tons of friends.
But somehow, something was terribly wrong. "Her emotions went back and forth — sometimes happy, sometimes sad," said her mother, Susan McCarty. "The end result was that she took her life."
Yet, however short, it was a life of value — and one that touched others in ways they'll long remember. After Nicole's death, friends continued coming to her house. But this time, they filled her front porch with flowers in her memory.
"Four hundred thirty people signed the book," at her viewing, Monday, March 28, at Everly Funeral Home, said her aunt, Kathy Lannes of London Towne. "And St. Andrew [the Apostle Catholic Church] was packed," the next day, for the funeral. "Kids were crying, devastated — their best friend was gone."
Burial was at Stonewall Memory Gardens in Manassas. Afterward, friends and family gathered at the Rocky Run Community Center and shared memories of Nicole. "She was so full of life — happy and spirited," said her uncle, Mike Lannes.
"I gave each of my nieces and nephews their own, special nicknames, based on their personalities," he said. "I called her 'The Lioness' because she was fierce in taking care of her younger cousin Caitlin, my daughter."
His last memories of Nicole were Feb. 12, after she and Caitlin went to a dance at Stone Middle School, where Caitlin's in seventh grade. "They had a good time and, afterward, they came back to my house," he said. "Nicole was happy and laughing. She gave my wife a kiss, and then she kissed and hugged me and said, 'I love you, Uncle Mike.' That's the part that really sticks in my heart."
Mike Lannes is the oldest of five brothers and sisters, and Nicole's mom is his sister. He learned of Nicole's death from his younger brother Mark. "He called and said, 'I have terrible news,' and my heart just sank to the ground," said Lannes. "Then we had to tell my daughter, and she took it very hard. It's something that's gonna leave a big hole in me [and in everyone who loved her]."
His wife Kathy said Nicole was "so happy and beautiful — one of those people who light up a room when they walk in. She was a very sweet person. There's no guarantee that anyone's going to survive the teen-age years, so I tell [my own daughter] to just try to be careful and use common sense."
NICOLE'S COUSIN Alicia Lannes, 16, of Country Club Manor, recalled the fun they had during Nicole's 8th-birthday party and said they liked to shop for clothes and go to Myrtle Beach together. Alicia said the tragedy "makes me value all my friends' and cousins' lives even more. You go out with them, even if you don't feel like it, 'cause you never know if it'll be the last time."
Alicia's older brother, Greg, described Nicole as caring and open-hearted and said she loved talking to people. And Caitlin Lannes, 13, said anytime she needed anything or had a problem, she could talk to her cousin Nicole and "it helped a lot."
On Thanksgiving, said Caitlin, "I had to dye my hair for a wedding because of the color of my dress. It was supposed to be dark brown, but came out dark black. So that night, she dyed my hair three times to get it the right color."
Nicole's dad, Mike McCarty, said he and his daughter had great adventures together — fishing, mountain climbing, flying in a helicopter, whitewater-rafting. "She enjoyed anything outdoorsy," he said.
She played SYA softball since age 8, later playing travel ball for the Vienna Stars and the BRYC Stingrays. She then played for the Baseliners in Loudoun County until she was 15 and began high-school ball.
"When she was 13 and broke her ankle in two places, sliding into second base, she went back onto the field to be there when her team got a trophy," said McCarty. "And as soon as the cast was off, she was playing in a tournament."
Calling his daughter "fun-loving, with a big heart," he said she'd "give you the shirt off her back. Often, she had six or eight kids at the house at a time. Nicole was always up to something, and you were a step behind and had to catch up. She'd hug me around the neck and tell me she loved me, and that was important to me."
Aaron Green, 18, knew Nicole at Centreville High. "I used to chill out at her house a lot — she was cool," he said. "We went to movies and parties. She'd be the first to turn the music up and say, 'Hey, we gotta dance to this.' She was always smiling about something, and she was always there for her friends."
JORDAN BAKEER, a sophomore, knew her since both were eighth-graders at Liberty Middle. She called Nicole funny and enthusiastic and said they liked to joke and argue about all sorts of things.
Senior Josh Murray was Nicole's boyfriend, the past two years. "Even if she just met you, she opened up her heart and her home to you, no matter who you were. She never hated anyone," he said. "She liked corny, love movies and going out to eat at Chipotle's." He took her death especially hard. At first, said Josh, "I was crying every day. But I'm happy for her because she had a lot of pain while she was here. So I know she's pain-free."
Sean Jagdeo, a 2004 CVH grad, said he and his girlfriend double-dated with Nicole and Josh. "Nicole had a great personality and was a fun person to be with," said Sean. Knowing that she died so young, he said, is hard "because she had a long way to go; she hadn't even gotten her [driver's] license, yet."
"I talked to her earlier that day, and she was fine," he said. "It makes me think about how life is short and you should take every day at a time because you never know what'll happen."
His girlfriend, Bhavna Bhatia, a Centreville senior, said Nicole was lively and outgoing. And junior Jasmine Garcia, 17, said she and Nicole liked hanging out with friends at their houses or at the mall. "It's hard for me to deal with her death," said Jasmine. "I feel like she's still here and is going to call me; I wish she was still here. It makes me think harder about things I do, like treating my friends wisely."
Junior Amanda Wood said she and Nicole were the best of friends for the past three or four years. "We'd eat 'easy mac' [macaroni and cheese] at her house, and we'd get our hair and nails done together and go shopping," she said. "She'd drop everything she was doing to talk to you, if you needed it."
After Nicole's death, said Amanda, "I cried. I went in her room and saw all the pictures and remembered all the things we'd done. I want to remember the Nicole I knew. Surrounding myself with friends helps me because I know they're going through the same pain I am, and they're there to help me."
Sophomore Dana Rivera said Nicole helped her make the JV softball team, this year. "I'd never played before, and she was my partner for everything at tryouts," said Dana. "If I couldn't hit the ball, she'd encourage me that I could do it."
Nicole's aunt, Donna Lannes-Robuck of Reston, recalled a trip to Italy they took to meet their Italian relatives after Nicole's grandmother (Lannes-Robuck's mother) died. "Nicole was with us for two weeks, laughing and happy, seeing the sights and meeting our family in Itri [Italy]," said Lannes-Robuck.
"A COUSIN, 9, loved Nicole," she continued. "She couldn't speak English, but kept touching Nicole's hair and clothes and saying, 'Bella, bella' ['beautiful, beautiful']. I'm so glad we had that vacation together. I'll never forget it — lots of hugs and lots of love."
Nicole's younger Lannes cousins in Leesburg — Julie, 11; Robert, 13 and Matthew, 6 — also remembered happier times. Julie said Nicole liked to "pick us up and carry us around" and they both had fun playing dress-up together. "At family gatherings, she was the boss," said Robert. "She'd be the leader of the games we'd play."
"When I had Robert, she was like a little mother," said the cousins' mom, Nicole's aunt Lisa. "I'd burp Robert, and she'd burp her baby doll."
Candy Brown was Nicole's JV softball coach and P.E. teacher at Centreville and was also devastated by her loss. "She was my T.A. [teaching assistant], my player, my kid," said Brown. "She was full of piss and vinegar — and that's why you loved her. I don't think I've ever known a player who loved the game as much as I did, except for her. She was a pitcher, but she could play any position."
"Sometimes, I'd walk into class and she'd come in five minutes later and say, 'Hi, Coach,'" said Brown. "I'd ask her where she'd been, and she'd answer, 'I was right here,' with a big grin. And if she got hit in a game, she'd act like she was OK and keep playing. She was a great kid and I loved her a lot."