WILBRAHAM — She left her home here and headed for the city. It is what a lot of young people do after high school in this speck of a town along Route 20.
Amy Lord’s city was Boston, and she made it her home after graduating from Bentley University. She was fresh into her career with a digital marketing and Web design firm, and like so many twentysomethings just starting out, appeared to be sharing a South Boston apartment with several friends.
But her roots were here in Wilbraham, 7 miles off the beaten path east of Springfield.
It is the type of place where just about everybody knows your name, and you either love it or hate it for that very reason. It’s the type of place where elite athletes and scholars are revered and remembered, and Lord was both as a varsity cheerleader and honors student.
“She is so much bigger than this very sad ending,” her cheerleading coach, Leah Cameron, said.
When people talk about Lord, they cannot help but use words like vibrant, nurturer, leader. It’s what happened Wednesday night when hundreds gathered at Gazebo Park near the center of Wilbraham to remember the local girl made good who was killed 80 miles away in Hyde Park’s Stony Brook Reservation.
The mourners recited in unison Catholic prayers and sang “Let There Be Peace on Earth.” The flames from their white candles cut against the dusk as groups of Lord’s friends sobbed over her loss.
Lord was Timothy Fortin’s first crush. A neighbor and friend since the two were in fourth grade, Fortin finally worked up the nerve to ask her out in high school. And true to form, Lord’s rejection was tempered by kindness, as he recalls her saying, “Oh, my God. You are so sweet, but I’m already seeing someone.”
“She was the girl next door,” he said. “But she was the kind who actually wanted to know you and cared about you.”
Lord was a 2007 graduate of Minnechaug Regional High School, where she won academic awards and was one of the three varsity cheerleading captains.
A picture of the 24-year-old when she was a high school senior hangs on the wall in Cameron’s home in North Carolina.
“She was a part of the team that made my dreams come true,” Cameron said by telephone before Wednesday night’s vigil.
Cameron always wanted to coach a team that won a big title. She did that when Lord was a member of the team in 2006 when the 14-member squad became the Western Massachusetts regional champs. Cameron and Lord’s teammates said winning would not have been possible without Lord’s nurturing leadership.
“She always found a way to pull the team together,” said Cameron. “I feel like I needed to thank her more than I did. There are not that many people you can look back in your life and say, ‘You helped me get somewhere.’ ”
But that nurturing spirit transcended school pride and extended to friends and family, said former teammate Cherise Leclerc.
Lord comforted friends who did not make the cheerleading squad and never seemed to mind if her two younger sisters tagged along. Leclerc remembers Lord’s sisters being regular sidekicks at friends’ homes and football games.
“They’re just such a close family,” said Leclerc, who remembers her friend’s dream was to grow up and become a wedding planner.
Instead she became a digital media analyst with Genuine Interactive, a digital marketing and web design firm in the South End. Lord started there as an intern while a student at Bentley, and the company said in a statement it was “impressed by her smarts and infectious, positive personality.”
One of the company’s executives endorsed her work acumen online, saying Lord “jumped right into her summer internship and quickly picked up all the tools of the online marketing trade.”
Lord graduated from Bentley, where she studied abroad, played intramural soccer, and served as a peer adviser, with a bachelor’s degree in marketing and quantitative perspectives in 2011. Genuine Interactive hired her after graduation.
Now, it grieves the loss of the woman described as everyone’s favorite friend. The day after her body was discovered in a wooded area, the company closed its doors to mourn.