Taylor Lee Meyer was a popular member of the softball team at King Philip Regional High School in Wrentham.
The 17-year-old had some tragic plans for homecoming weekend in October 2008, however, posting on her Facebook page that her status on the last night of her life was “getting shattered” at private parties, according to her mother Kathi Meyer Sullivan.
Taylor had drowned that night in only two feet of swampy water after stumbling off into the woods following an argument with a friend during a night of underage drinking. She left devastated parents and two brothers — one older and one younger.
“My daughter passed away because of poor choices,” Sullivan said. “But every single day there’s someone out there who learns something new because of Taylor.”
Sullivan brought her story, “Taylor’s Message,” to a Whitman-Hanson WILL-sponsored town hall program on substance abuse Monday, April 11 in the Dr. John F. McEwan Performing Arts Center at WHRHS. The event was co-sponsored by the Brockton Area Opioid Abuse Prevention and was followed by a panel discussion featuring Stacey Lynch of CASTLE, High Point Treatment Center; Whitman Police Chief Scott Benton and Hanson Police Officer Bill Frazier; Mary Cunningham, a young adult in recovery and Ryan Morgan, principal of Independence Academy, a recovery high school. Morgan is a former assistant principal at Hanson’s Indian Head School.
“What we try to do at school is talk about these issues,” said W-H Principal Jeffrey Szymaniak after Sullivan’s talk.
Sullivan and the panelists agreed that parents need to speak to their kids about wise choices, and to check up on their social media activity.
“This is a huge problem,” said Hanson Police Chief Michael Miksch. “All I can say is spy on your kids. … If you’re not going to watch them, somebody else will.”
“Speak to your kids,” Sullivan said. “Tell them you want a phone call, to let you know they’re OK. Make them accountable.”
Frazier outlined how he drives home the message, in an age-appropriate manner, that social media posts are forever.
“There’s lots of things I wish I did differently,” said Sullivan in a talk that ranged from wistful humor to tearful recollection and remorse. “I raised my [then] 10-year-old a lot different than I raised Taylor.”
That close supervision had not prevented her younger son from experimenting with marijuana, but having learned from her daughter’s tragedy, Sullivan arranged for the boy to have a three-hour heart-to-heart talk with police after he turned in his paraphernalia.
As she spoke to an audience of about 150 parents, adolescents and members of the community, an enlargement of Taylor’s graduation portrait was behind her on the stage — a smiling, blond-haired girl in a beige sweater that Sullivan said “is not my kid.”
She preferred wearing baggy sweatshirts and sweatpants.
“Taylor was a cute little mess,” she said.
Sullivan pointed to a slide show of photos from Taylor’s homecoming weekend, pictures she has since received from Taylor’s friends.
She told of how one of Taylor’s friends had arranged to purchase alcohol for homecoming parties and that the 17-year-old had attended two house parties where alcohol was served, before heading out to the party in the woods where the fight with a girlfriend happened.
Sullivan spoke of her regret in not having called Taylor to check up on her, and that of others who had encountered the teen during the homecoming events. One of those people was a mother of one of Taylor’s softball teammates who noticed the girl had been drinking but did not call her mother after Taylor assured the woman she wasn’t driving.
“Please co-parent together,” Sullivan said. “Make that phone call. … If ever something is off just make that phone call.”
It took 600 volunteers and public safety officers two days of searching to find Taylor Meyer’s body.
“She had crossed a river up to her chest in the freezing cold, she walked in mud up to her knees, she had no shoes on,” Sullivan said of her daughter’s effort to find her way out of a wooded swamp before drowning in two feet of water. “She was all alone. … As her mom, I can only pray that she fell asleep.”
Sullivan said when she speaks to high school students she stresses that Taylor’s death was 100-percent preventable had she had made better choices.
She said after her daughter’s death, “I had to decide to be happy. It’s not easy to do and I tell everybody something in your life is going to hit you like that and you’re going to have to make that choice to be happy.”
During the panel presentation Cunningham, sober for two and a half years, outlined her descent into addiction beginning with alcohol abuse and experimentation with percocet, which led to heroin within a month. Morgan described the recovery high school program offered at Independence Academy and Lynch outlined the recovery treatment process.
Benton and Frazier talked about the role of police in substance abuse prevention and community outreach as well as law enforcement.
“We recognize, as a community, that this is a public safety and public health issue,” Benton said. “As a police department, we’re obviously on the enforcement end of it, but we’re also a resource for education to help and let’s address it together.”
Questions from the audience ranged from the details of the Social Host Law (adults are criminal and civilly liable for underage drinking parties on their property) to parental controls on social media, communication with kids on trusting what might be in candy offered by acquaintances to the implications of a ballot question to legalize pot.
“There’s going to be huge marijuana money going after it, just like big tobacco,” Morgan cautioned about the effort to legalize marijuana. “The thing you have to drive home with your adolescents is it affects their brain differently than it would a grown person’s brain.”
The program was broadcast and recorded by Whitman-Hanson Community Access TV.
“This is going to take everybody together to work at this,” Benton said.