Salisbury High mourns death of student

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, March 29, 2011

By Sarah Campbell
SALISBURY — The halls of Salisbury High School will be a little quieter without senior Nykia Johnson dancing down them, soliciting hugs and bringing smiles to everyone who passed by.
“She was a very social girl, she would walk these halls and talk to any and everybody,” teacher Jacob Pace said Monday. “Her love for others was felt by everyone who ever had contact with her.”
Pace had Nykia, who had Down Syndrome, in his Developmental Occupational Vocational Education class.
He said this classroom won’t be the same without the 18-year-old, who died Sunday after a six-day stay at Rowan-Regional Medical Center.
“From the moment she came in until she left she was just the happiest, most delightful, energetic student I’ve ever had or been around,” he said.
Nykia arrived at Rowan Regional on Tuesday after suffering from a stomach virus. Pace said she was transferred to the intensive car unit later that evening.
“She was fighting and showing signs of improvement,” Pace said. “Her first dialysis treatment Friday was what really slowed down all the minute gains that we were seeing throughout the week, her body kind of rejected to it.”
Although the official cause of death is still uncertain, pneumonia was likely a factor.
Sharon Corpening, Nykia’s mother, said her home will be “lifeless” without the sound of her daughter’s laughter.
“She loved laughter and fun and joy,” she said. “She didn’t have a sad bone in her body.
Corpening said it was clear just how much students at Salisbury High adored Nykia when an overwhelming number of them came to visit her last week.
“It was just unbelievable, they just filled my heart up,” she said.
Pace, who has taught Nykia for three years, said he visited her at the hospital every day, sometimes more than once a day.
“I really enjoyed going in the morning because I got to be there to hold her hand,” he said. “That was good for me and my grieving that I was able to spend that extra time with her.”
Corpening said her daughter rarely missed a home football game and made it a point to attend as many basketball games as possible.
“She loved her Hornets,” she said.
And when Nykia wasn’t at school she spent a large chunk of her free time at Providence A.M.E. Zion Church.
“She loved church and she loved playing the tambourine,” Corpening said.
Senior Taylar Whittlesey created a Facebook event inviting Salisbury High student and staff to wear bright orange, Nykia’s favorite color, Monday to pay tribute to Nykia.
They will wear orange again today in her honor.
“She touched everybody she came across, it’s almost undescribable how much joy she brought to everyone,” Pace said. “She just had the power and she didn’t have to try, she just did it by being herself.”
Contact reporter Sarah Campbell at 704-797-7683.