Bryan Muehlberger and his daughter Gracie would dance around their kitchen together, sliding across the floor in their socks as the song “Cinderella” by Steven Curtis Chapman played in the background.
The lyrics tell of a father who makes time to dance with his daughter through the years before “she will be gone” and go on with her life as an adult.
Little did Muehlberger know the song would take up another meaning after the death of his 15-year-old daughter and Saugus High School student on Nov. 14 when a teenager opened fire on his classmates on campus, killing two and injuring three others before turning the weapon on himself.
Gracie, who would have turned 16 in October, continues to dance — through silly videos and photos that forever capture who she was, according to her friends and family, who describe her with words like “energetic,” “caring,” “intelligent” and “full of life.”
“She was a girl that liked to have fun, and wanted to make a difference and do good things for people,” said Bryan Muehlberger last November, during a celebration of her life. “I don’t ever recall her hurting a soul; I never heard about her getting into a fight with anybody.”
Gracie’s friend Chloe Rogers considers herself one of the lucky ones to have gotten close to the 15-year-old.
“She also helped me through at the time (that) was the hardest part of my life. Thank you, Gracie, for always making me feel better,” said friend Chloe Rogers during a vigil on Nov. 17 last year. “I’m so grateful that my last moment was spent with her full of jokes and smiles.”
In learning more about their daughter, through her friends and videos shared with them, Gracie’s parents have found a motto she lived by, one that has inspired others to follow.
“I think people that maybe only knew her lightly have gotten to know her better over the last year through the videos and postings that we’ve done to share more of her life,” said Muehlberger in an October interview. “I think they’ve realized what kind of a special girl she was and the impact she’s had on their lives. I think it’s made them realize life is precious, and life is short, and to celebrate every single waking moment because you’re not guaranteed tomorrow.”
Initially found in one of her journal entries from when she was about 13 years old, Gracie left behind a message that has helped her parents get through each day:
“You only have one life to live, so why not live it great, real and fill it with memories and experiences.”
These words are now part of a large, pink mural with angel wings painted by world-renowned artist Colette Miller at Saugus High to honor Gracie.
Her parents honor their daughter today by trying not to let the small things in life get to you and to follow the love for life she had, they said.
At an October event honoring Gracie’s 16th birthday at Duane R. Harte Park in Saugus, her father said: “I want us to celebrate Gracie by doing just that, you know, spend some time, roll down your windows, open your sunroof if you got one, blare some of your favorite tunes, laugh, enjoy some life.”
In an effort to inspire youth to speak up and “realize that they have a voice and their voice is powerful and matters,” the family has started the GracieStrong Foundation to fulfill their mission through inspirational events and relevant training, according to its website. To learn more about the foundation, visit graciestrong.org.