Since joining The Rider Chronicle, Reddy has published several stories attracting thousands of cumulative reads on topics including sports, current events...
Fallen McNiel teen would have been graduating
May 17, 2021
Lauren Landavazo would have already purchased her cap and gown. She would be gearing up for an eventful month filled with end-of-year ceremonies and graduation parties. Perhaps, she would be searching for a college roommate and dreaming about her future career.
It’s been almost five years since Landavazo was fatally shot while walking home from McNiel Middle School at the beginning of her eighth grade year.
As they, too, prepare to graduate from Rider, Landavazo’s best friends are still holding her memory close.
“I always just thought she was the coolest person ever,” senior Alani Darkow said. “She was awesome. She was one of my first friends.”
Darkow, along with seniors Lexus Aquallo and Devotion Rodriguez, were Landavazo’s closest Fowler Elementary School companions. The group was together from kindergarten through sixth grade, remaining tight through family struggles, drama and the transition to junior high.
“She was an uplifting person, and she always knew how to make you laugh if you were upset,” Aquallo said.
Since her passing, the group has gathered each year to celebrate Landavazo’s birthday on Oct. 14. Joined by a couple of her other friends, they hold a sleepover at the Landavazo household to “get together, have cake and just talk about Lauren.”
The girls each remember Lauren in their own ways, as well.
“I used to keep a diary, and still kind of do,” Rodriguez said. “My logs would be ‘Dear L’ and ‘Dear Lauren,’ as if I’m still talking to her.”
Darkow knows that Lauren is “always going to be a part of my life” and considers her parents, Vern and Bianka Landavazo, to be family members.
“I’ve got some necklaces…that’s just kind of a physical thing that I do to keep her around me and on me,” Darkow said. “Also, I speak to her, whether I think that she can hear me or not, because no matter what, she’s always going to be in my head.”
All three girls agree that Landavazo’s outgoing personality would have made her a role model for her peers at Rider.
“If she had made it to high school, I feel like she would have been a really well-known person,” Aquallo said. “Everybody always loved her.”
Though Landavazo will not have the opportunity to walk the stage alongside the rest of the class of 2021, it’s evident to those who knew her well that she would have flourished outside of high school, as well.
“I think she would be so successful in so many different ways,” Darkow said. “I know that she would hold her head high, and she would shine. I will always be so proud of everything that she ever accomplished in her life.”
Even after all this time, Landavazo is remembered fondly for her authenticity, her kindness and her bright nature.
“She’s one of a kind,” Rodriguez said. “After almost five years, I’ve never met anyone like her, that has touched me and made such a big impact like she did, that I would call my best friend like I did her.”