The school nurse who ran to the aid of a Maryland high school student shot to death by her ex-boyfriend in March coached the victim in swimming and considered her a friend.
Within seconds of the gunshots being fired inside Great Mills High School March 20, Penelope Michaels had her first aid kit in hand and was rushing to the hallway where 16-year-old Jaelynn Willey had been shot.
“When I rounded the corner, initially, I knew the backpack, it was familiar, as silly as that sounds, then realizing, once turning her over, realizing it was one of my swimmers,” Michaels said.
Michaels is a swim coach at Great Mills and had been Jaelynn’s coach since before high school. Now she was faced with having to try to save her life.
“There were no signs of life initially, so just trying to provide care in hopes of getting some kind of reaction,” she said.
Reviving Jaelynn’s pulse and getting her to the hospital was heroic and exactly what nurses are trained to do, according to Cherry Delahay, who is also a school nurse.
“To actually be in a situation where, one, you know the student and you know them so well, and also to be a in a situation where you just don’t expect that sort of thing to happen,” Delahay said.
She wrote a letter to the Maryland Nurses Association nominating Michaels for an award.
“Penny’s actions gave this family a gift that can never be quantified,” the letter read. “She gave the mother the chance to hold her child’s hand until the end, the chance for a father to kiss his little girl’s cheek one last time and the chance for brothers and sisters to tell their sister how much they love her.”
Jaelynn was taken off life support and died in a hospital days after the shooting. The shooter, 17-year-old Austin Rollins, also shot and killed himself.
“Sometimes I wish I could have provided more, even though I know I did my best,” Michaels said.
Michaels, who received the award Monday, said the tragedy has changed her.
“Obviously, I’m a different person,” Michaels said. “I will not be the person I was prior to that, but learning how to go on and still be there to provide support, I mean, there’s a whole community out there that’s still grieving.”