The thing about Ella: Students gather to remember Ella Ferguson

Published 12:15 am Tuesday, November 8, 2016

By Rebecca Rider

SALISBURY — Monday night at Neel Road Baptist you heard the same words over and over. “The thing about Ella was …” or, “If you knew Ella you know …” What started as an impromptu gathering of the church’s youth group turned into a night of tears and laughter as more than 75 students remembered someone who brought light to all of their lives: Ella Ferguson.

Ella, 17, died Sunday night in a single-vehicle crash near the 3000 block of Mooresville Road. Highway Patrol said her car hit a tree around 8 p.m. Ella was airlifted to the Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte, where she later died.

But Monday night, her classmates and friends gathered to celebrate her life.

Ella joined the Neel Road Baptist youth group in April of this year, and youth pastor Brian Hancock said she had a passion for faith. Hancock said he heard the news late last night when a family member sent him a text message.

“My heart dropped whenever I got the news last night,” he said.

It was the youth group’s idea to hold a night of prayer and remembrance for Ella, Hancock said. But the group was joined by friends, classmates and coaches, all seeking comfort.

“It’s hard to find words,” friend Emily Muire said, “Knowing her was probably the best experience of my life.”

Everyone had something to say about Ella. As the minutes passed, one or another would speak up, or go stand at the front of the room and tell a story from when she was young, or one from last week. Friends talked about her independence, her willingness to speak her mind, her sincerity, fierce loyalty, her humor, penchant for squirrel masks and her love for others.

“You knew God crafted her as an individual,” friend Breanna Estrada said.

Ella was the kind of person who thought of others before herself. When her friends hit rough waters, Ella would give them the same reminders: love yourself, and stay strong.

“She had a tough cover but she had a heart of gold,” friend Taylor Quinn said.

Speakers bit back tears and spun a memory of a smiling, laughing girl with a taste for life.

But she wasn’t always that way. At the beginning of the year, Estrada said Ella was going through a rough time. It was Estrada who first invited Ella to Neel Road Baptist, where she found her faith.

“I think she was happier after that,” Estrada said.

Shortly after joining, Ella accompanied the youth group on a mission trip to Washington, D.C. — completing 10 months’ worth of preparatory work in two. But Ella was like that, Quinn said.

“Everything she did, she was all in,” Quinn said.

Many of the stories shared Monday were about that trip in June. Hancock required students to keep a journal of the time, and Monday he copied pages from Ella’s and set them out.

“Today is my motivation for tomorrow,” she wrote in one entry.

Hancock said that he knew Ella was in heaven, and encouraged students to take comfort in that.

“She’s not suffering, she’s not crying, she’s not hurting any longer,” he told them.

Over the next few days, Hancock will make himself available for grief counseling and will try to help his students move on. The Rowan County Sheriff’s Office is investigating the wreck, and has obtained search warrants for her cellphone.

Contact reporter Rebecca Rider at 704-797-4264.