CAMBRIDGE — Tyler Greene had just graduated high school and posted proud pictures of himself on Instagram in his cap and gown: “I’m glad I made it,” he wrote. “Time to start my life in the world.”
The 18-year-old from Dallas, Ga., was thrilled to be attending Harvard Summer School this year, his friends said — and despite his initial worries about meeting people, his friends said they’d received an enthusiastic text message soon after he arrived: “I made friends, guys!”
But on Friday night, Greene drowned after leaping into the Charles River from the Weeks Footbridge in Cambridge, according to law enforcement officials. Witnesses told officials that after he jumped at around 8:45 p.m., they saw the teen flailing his arms before slipping under the water. His body was pulled from the river after a 25-minute search.
His death appears to be accidental, and no foul play is suspected, officials said early Saturday. On Saturday evening, a spokeswoman for the Middlesex District Attorney’s office said no further information was available. Though it is unclear what happened, jumping into the Charles River is a Harvard tradition, according to numerous blogs and websites.
“We realize how very upsetting this sad news can be even to those who did not know Tyler personally,” read a letter to the Harvard Summer School Community. “We are all here to help. Don’t hesitate to reach out. . . . Our thoughts and prayers are with Tyler’s family and friends in this difficult time.”
Friends in Georgia were devastated to hear about the loss of such an upbeat and caring young man.
“Everybody loved him. Who couldn’t?” said his friend Makensie Lynch, 18, who attended East Paulding High School with Greene. “No matter how badly his day was going, he always made sure his friends’ was going well.”
A vigil was held at Harvard on Saturday morning, and a there was talk of a memorial in Greene’s hometown, according to one friend there.
Friends described Greene as a great listener who always had advice for those who needed it. He was whip-smart, with a goofy sense of humor and a willingness to go his own way. He wanted to be a barber, they said.
“He was so brave,” said Hannah Mundell, 17, who took a cosmetology class at school with him and said he was “the best” at doing hair. “Only boy I knew that wanted to [take cosmetology], but he did not care what other people thought at all.”
Greene had a younger sister on whom he doted, friends said. He was an avid Atlanta Hawks fan who always wore the basketball team’s jacket and headband, and he loved to eat at the Zaxby’s fast-casual restaurant chain.
He was studying acting and computer science at the Harvard summer program, said Lynch.
Marissa Taylor, 18, said she graduated from the same high school as Greene and became friends with him during their senior year when they were both in the cosmetology class. She loved his wonderful sense of humor and his sense of style.
“Every time he was around, everyone would have a smile on their face due to his contagious sense of humor,” she said.
But what she will miss most about him, she said, was “his genuine character.”
“He was always himself. He was never afraid to be himself. He was a very unique young man and had a beautiful personality. Tyler was friendly and one of the best people I have ever met.”
A gathering in Greene’s honor was held late Saturday morning in the Eliot House Junior Common Room at Harvard, with mental health counselors and clergy members present for support. Dozens of students filled the room, many crying silently and holding each other.
An adult at the gathering encouraged them to spend time together. Some students remained in the room, while others filed out in small groups, their faces blank.
One summer school student, who gave his name as Brian, said he met Greene only once but recalled him as kindhearted and generous. Brian had forgotten his laundry money, he said, and Greene paid for him.
The tragedy has taken a toll on the tightly knit summer school community, the student said as he left the gathering.
“Everyone tries to avoid the topic,” he said.
Overnight, a small memorial was begun at the bridge, made of flowers, candles, and half a dozen cans of Arizona kiwi strawberry juice. A simple message was spelled out on small yellow note papers: “For Tyler.”
One summer school student, who visited the memorial with a friend, said kiwi strawberry juice was the teen’s favorite drink.
The student, who asked not to be identified, said Greene was the first person he had met as part of the Harvard summer program.
“I went out into the yard and he was sitting with a group of people. As soon as I approached him, he immediately took me in and made me feel comfortable,” the student said. “He wasn’t judgey or anything.”
The student said the teen was funny and liked basketball.
“His best quality was that he always had a positive attitude, and he always spread that attitude to everyone,” he said.Vivan Wang can be reached at email@example.com. Nicole Fleming can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Evan Allen can be reached at email@example.com.