Only days after graduating from T.C. Williams High School last year, Kelley Swanson, 18, died unexpectedly from rapidly spreading septicemia, a bacterial infection in the blood. She was celebrating with friends in North Carolina, something that high school students call “Beach Week.” But the festivities were darkened by the shock of unspeakable tragedy — one in a sad trilogy that haunted the class of 2006.
Although the T.C. Williams graduation ceremony at the Patriot Center was a joyous event, two ceremonial candles were burning on the stage. They represented two students who died during their high school years: Laura Lynam, who died in a car accident in October 2004, and Schuyler Jones, who was beaten to death in Old Town in September 2003.
“They are with us here tonight,” said graduating senior Jessica Dantzler-Henry during the welcoming remarks at the Patriot Center.
And then, only days later in the midst of a celebration, another candle began burning in the hearts of the class of 2006 — this one was for Kelley Swanson, the red-headed soccer fanatic who reveled in playing buddy sports with special-needs children. Her firebrand spirit and athletic prowess were an overwhelming force, and she intended to create a program similar to the Alexandria Therapeutic Recreation Section at Virginia Tech.
“She was the most hilarious girl,” said sister Lindsay Swanson. “People felt very deeply about Kelley.”
On the soccer field, she was the master of the slide tackle. Her love of the game started at the age of 5. Later, her high school jersey would bear the number 5. Her first team was the Purple Ds, later known by opponents as the “Dreaded Purple Ds.” At T.C. Williams, Kelley and her twin sister Katey were co-captains of the T.C. Williams varsity women’s soccer team. Her headstrong nature and ebullient personality made her a force of nature, one that her father called a “dynamo sparkplug.”
“She was about four-foot-eleven, but we called her five foot to make her feel better,” said Sanden Swanson, Kelley Swanson’s father, shortly after her death last year. “I called her my little five-foot wannabe.”
Every Sunday, Kelley and her twin sister would help disabled athletes as part of the Alexandria Therapeutic Recreation Section. Kelley's sarcastic sense of humor and blunt personality kept friends and relatives constantly entertained. Among her many nicknames were “KellBell,” “Twinner” or “Curly Kelley.”
“One of the things I remember most about her is her smile,” said T.C. Williams Principal John Porter. “It was the most endearing friendly smile you'd ever want to see.”