Marquez Montgomery earned the nickname Thirst because of his fondness for a certain soft drink that uses the word in its slogan.
But friends and family paint a picture of a teenager with a thirst for helping others. It was the remembrance of that trait, among others, that brought more than 200 people to Redan High School on March 16 for a candlelight vigil to celebrate Montgomery’s life that ended after a car crash exactly one year earlier.
Marquez, 17, and a junior when he died, was a popular member of the Redan High School marching band.
“Thirst had an impact on everybody alike,” said Redan percussion instructor Joseph Howard. “He was a loyal friend and he was involved. If I couldn’t count on anybody [else], I could count on Thirst.”
His grandmother Verna Montgomery told about how Marquez often would help middle school band students with arrangements and how he stopped a fight between two girls at school.
“He talked them out of fighting and told them to give each other a hug,” Verna Montgomery said.
Countless stories like those have been shared by his friends and family over the past year, and they were revisited at the vigil.
“He would always teach me something new,” said Khiree Washington, 17, who played in the marching band with Marquez. “My mom called him her other son. I really miss him a lot.”
Family members recognized Marquez’ love for music at an early age. His grandmother remembered him banging on pots and pans as a 2-year-old. He played drums in the church band, saxophone in middle school and percussion in high school. His mother had bought him a trumpet this past Christmas, his grandmother said.
“My son had aspirations,” Theresa Montgomery said. “His goals were to be a music producer and he wanted to teach music. His playing ability was on a collegiate level.”
Marquez was killed last year from injuries sustained in a car crash. He was driving to school when a man driving a Hyundai ran a stop sign and T-boned Marquez’ Mazda Protégé, according to police. After the impact, the Protégé veered off the road and hit a tree. Neither of the other two students in the car with Marquez were killed.
Charges were not filed against the driver, Theresa Montgomery said, because police determined Marquez was speeding at the time of the accident.
“It’s been very hard, it’s a day to day process,” Verna Montgomery said. “I’m better now than I was. My daughter, she’s better, but she still has a ways to go.”
The support of family and the community have helped Theresa work through the grief of losing her only son.
“He touched the young and old,” said his mother. “More than 500 people attended his funeral. That speaks to his life. The candlelight vigil was not a family decision. The school wanted to do it to honor a good young man.”
Marquez had to repeat the ninth grade but his mother said his grades were improving and he was making plans for college. Just before his junior year he was diagnosed with a learning disability that affected his reading comprehension, his mother said.
“Everyone knew him for his dreads because that was part of his personality,” Theresa Montgomery said. “The school he wanted to go to was Southern University and part of their criteria was you had to be clean cut. So he started looking for other schools. Two weeks before the accident he called and said he wanted to get a haircut. That was a proud moment for me.”
Theresa Montgomery said she worked diligently with counselors and administration at Redan High School to help her son overcome his obstacles.
“My focus has been speaking on academics and trying to create awareness and changes in the system regarding special education,” she said. “Students whose disability is not as profound as others should be categorized differently. They shouldn’t be penalized because they need help or because they’re trying tot get help.”