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Family, friends mourn Nicole McCarty's death.

After Nicole McCarty was born, her mother slept with her hand in her daughter's cradle to make sure she was still breathing. Susan McCarty had to take fertility drugs to conceive, so her new baby was like a miracle to her.

"I said the Rosary to St. Mary for two years to have Nicole — she was definitely wanted," said McCarty, a devout Catholic. So she and Nicole's father Mike were overjoyed by the birth of their only child.

"She was our princess, and we got her everything she wanted," said Susan. "She was so loved, and she had so much going for her. She was beautiful — her face looked like a China doll."

BUT PROBLEMS lurked beneath her bright and bubby exterior. Two days after her 16th birthday, Nicole took her life. When her mother found out, she said, "I went totally insane — berserk. It was like someone ripped the heart out of my chest. I was angry — I wanted to take my own life and be laying right next to her. I wanted to understand and take my baby's pain."

McCarty said she and her daughter enjoyed doing "girly things" together. "We liked going shopping, doing makeup, baking," she said. "I was like her best friend, and she could talk to me about anything; we were very close."

The McCartys, however, had separated, and Nicole lived mostly with her dad in Little Rocky Run, near Centreville High, where she was a sophomore. Her mom last saw her on her birthday, Sunday. "She came over to borrow a pair of my jeans," said Susan. "She was happy. I got her a cheesecake, a dozen roses, a card and a silver Tiffany's necklace — she loved it."

Susan was planning to move to Arlington and, she said, "I told Nicole all the fun we'd have there and that she'd be a city girl and still go to Centreville High. She was excited about that."

Her suicide, Tuesday, March 22, stunned her family.

"The day this happened, I talked to Nicole on the phone, three times," said her dad, Mike McCarty. "I was at work, and she was at home, working on a MacBeth report for English class. The toner cartridge in the printer had run out of red ink, so she started doing math. She was planning to go to the mall afterward."

Since her death, he said Nicole's friends have helped him by coming over and talking with him about her. But, said her grieving father, "I don't think I've totally dealt with this, yet."

"Up until 2:30 that day, nothing said this girl was going to kill herself," added her mother. "She's been upset before and called me from her dad's house, and I've gone there and helped her calm down, and it always worked. This time, she didn't call me."

Susan said she had an "eerie feeling' about Nicole when she woke up, that morning, but she'd forgotten it was spring break and thought her daughter was in school. The next day, Father Jerome Fasano of St. Andrew the Apostle Catholic Church came to her Centre Ridge apartment to comfort her.

"HE TOLD me the bond between a mother and daughter is amazing," she said. "He said the feeling I had that morning was a message from Nicole — she was preparing me for this." Still, said Susan McCarty, she'll always wonder why Nicole ended her life: "She had everything to live for; we would have done anything for her. I think she was trying to grow up too fast."

When a parent loses a child, she said, "Your life is sucked out of you, and I don't know if I'll ever get it back. I've lost my parents and my daughter all within three years. My world was wiped out."

Nicole's uncle Mark Lannes of Leesburg described Nicole as "literally, life — beloved by her family." Yet, said Lannes, "I saw a troubled soul. We tried everything we could; we prayed and talked with her."

Also crushed by her death, Nicole's JV softball coach, Candy Brown, said that since the tragedy, she's told her players, "If something feels bad, there are people they can go to [for help]."

Nicole's college education was already paid for, and her mother had a tablecloth made in Italy for her daughter's hope chest. But now, she said, "I'm never going to give my daughter a wedding or have grandchildren. I'm at the lowest point of my life; only my faith is getting me through. I have to think of my daughter in Jesus's arms to brush my teeth or put on my shoes in the morning."

During Nicole's funeral service last week, said Susan McCarty, Father Lawrence Violette "sent a strong message to the teen-agers that what she did was wrong because, when a child does this, the mother's and father's lives are over." And since then, she said, "A lot of parents have been coming to me because they're worried about their own children."

MCCARTY SAID she's upset that Nicole "did this to herself because we were all there for her. Help was available. But when you're lonely and depressed, you think you have nobody — and that's where she got to."

At first, said McCarty, "I was angry that God pulled my baby away from me. What did I do to deserve such pain? You're not supposed to bury your babies before yourself. Now, I'm undergoing counseling [through my church], and I eventually want to help other parents who are going through what I am."

She said Nicole's death was devastating and nothing else in her whole life will ever hurt as much. "I think, if she'd have known how upset everyone would be, she wouldn't have done it," said McCarty. "Kids shouldn't do this. Her father and I will carry the pain for the rest of our lives."