For freshman Jessica Palmer, life wasn’t about grades, accolades or popularity. It was about living her faith, spending time with her family and supporting her friends.
It’s what made her spend about $120 on a last-minute plane ticket home to Miami a month ago when she missed her train, just to surprise her family. It’s why she stayed there until 2 a.m., listening to one of her friends and helping him cope with his father’s death, even though it meant driving through the night to make it back to USF in time for class the next day.
It’s also why she packed her bags early Tuesday, said her friend Florencia Quevedo. Palmer was getting ready to make the five-hour trip Wednesday to be home with her family for Thanksgiving.
Palmer didn’t get to make that trip, though.
Just before 9 p.m. Tuesday, she was hit by a car while crossing Fletcher Avenue near USF Palm Drive, the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office reported. She was rushed to Tampa General Hospital, where she died Wednesday morning.
“We had been instant messaging each other just the night before about how she couldn’t wait to get home, and how we couldn’t wait to see each other again,” Quevedo, 18, said. “The last thing I ever said to her was ‘goodnight’ and ‘God bless you.'”
Quevedo and Palmer met in July at a weeklong Christian conference called the Episcopal Church Event. Their faith brought them together, Quevedo said, and it was the first thing she turned to when she heard her friend had been injured. She began calling Episcopal churches throughout Tampa Bay, as well as the 700 Club — a national Christian news talk show — and asked to have Palmer added to their prayer lists, she said. She also started a Facebook group called “Prayers for Jess Palmer,” to encourage others to keep her at the forefront of their thoughts.
“Jessica had so many plans for her life that I wish she could’ve stayed here longer, but I know she’s some place much better than here,” Quevedo said. “She’s fulfilled God’s purpose for her on Earth and — sometimes I wonder if people are going to heaven, but I have no doubt that’s where she is right now.”
Palmer, 18, dreamed of becoming an engineer, her MySpace page read, but friends said her heart stood out more than her ambition.
“She was there for everyone, and she was so proud of her family,” said Michael Sedhev, a friend. “She’d always talk about them and introduce them everywhere they went and, after a while, I felt like her family was my family.”
Though Palmer wanted to surprise her parents and brother, Quevedo said that wasn’t the only reason she bought spur-of-the-moment plane ticket at the end of October — she also wanted to be there for Sedhev, whose father had died just days before.
“She was one of the most dedicated friends,” said Scott Gallimore, a junior majoring in business. “‘Dedicated’ may be a weird word to use, but it defined her. She was so supportive.”
Shortly after her plane landed, she went to Sedhev’s football game, Sedhev, 17, said, where she held a homemade sign that cheered for the “tall man,” as she jokingly referred to her 6-foot-5 friend.
“I couldn’t believe anyone would do something like that for me — spend all that money on a plane ticket, just to make sure I was OK,” he said. “There’s just something amazing about that.”
On Thanksgiving Day, Quevedo said she and other friends gathered at the Palmer house in Miramar to watch videos of Palmer.
“The past few days have been in slow motion,” she said. “You meet a lot of people in life who are nice, wonderful people, but rarely do you meet anyone with such a good heart.”