Family, friends and teachers are mourning the death of Morgan Ciota, a 20-year-old Creve Coeur woman, who died in a vehicle accident in St. Louis Jan. 6.
According to the St. Louis Post Dispatch, the fatal traffic crash occurred during icy conditions on eastbound Interstate 44. The vehicle Ciota was driving spun out of control about 10:40 a.m. and was struck by a tractor-trailer, police said.
A 42-year-old woman driving a truck said she tried to avoid the Toyota but pushed it into a guardrail. Ciota died at the crash scene.
Ciota, a 2011 graduate of East Peoria Community High School, was attending St. Louis College of Pharmacy. She worked as a pharmacy technician at Walgreens in St. Louis and at the St. Louis Soulard Farmers Market.
Adam Schneblin, band director at EPCHS, had Ciota in band for four years. She played percussion and was a member of the drumline.
“Morgan was everything you would want in a band member. She was a hard worker. She was very bright and had a great sense of humor and was very well-liked by her peers as well,” he said.
Schneblin said he learned about Ciota’s death from a current student.
“It’s hard to know what to say. She’ll certainly be missed. She was part of the band family. Once a student has been a member of the band it really becomes like a family.
So the students who are seniors this year would have been freshmen her senior year. We talked about it this morning and they remember her. ... It’s very, very sad and she will be missed.”
Marty Green, a teacher at EPCHS, also remembers Ciota.
Green’s class coordinates an annual blood drive called Rock ‘N’ Roll Up Your Sleeve for the American Red Cross. Ciota took on a leadership role in that endeavor.
“She was one of our co-presidents. The kids take care of every aspect of the blood drive. They raise money for T-shirts and prizes,” Green said.
As a teacher, Green sees many students come and go. Some stand out. Ciota was one of those students.
“She was a great student, intelligent. I teach my class as a college pre class. She was an excellent writer. ... She was kind of a dream student. Plus, her personality, she was so funny and a wonderful kid,” Green said. “It’s devastating.”
From time to time, Green said he and Ciota shared an email.
“Most of the time you don’t keep track of kids after they graduate, but her, I knew she was going to be a pharmacist,” Green said. “I’ve been doing this for 22 years and kids come and go but that’s one of the kids you remember.”
Page 2 of 3 - Friends have been posting comments on Ciota’s Facebook page since her death, but her sister Sharadyn Ciota of Peoria said one thing was not posted.
“One thing no one has mentioned is how she taught us all not to be embarrassed about anything. I know she taught me to accept that being ‘normal’ was for the boring people in the world who want to be remembered as good people, but she taught me that our oddities make us extraordinary and she was the most extraordinary person I knew.
“If there was one thing that I took from my time with Morgan it was that other’s opinions had no place in her life. When I was in third grade some kids were picking on me before lunch and recess and I told Morgan, and she told me that they were stupid and didn’t matter because she thought I was great. She did this kind of thing for everyone as she cared about everyone around her and that is how we should remember her. She was selfless and no one could have asked for a better time with her because each time was the best time,” Sharadyn said.
Kim Steele, Ciota’s mother of Manchester, Mo., said there has been an outpouring of support from people in East Peoria and St. Louis that is giving her comfort.
“The one thing that pops out in my mind is that not many parents live long enough to see the legacy that their children create,” she said. “I am able to witness the legacy. It’s unbelievable. I knew everybody loved Morgan. It’s unbelievable. It’s beyond what words can say.”
Steele said a candlelight vigil and other memorial events were planned for her daughter at the college she attended.
“They are bussing kids here for her service,” Steele said.
Steele said her daughter touched many people’s lives.
“Morgan was one flower and she planted seeds everywhere she went and now we get to see the blossoms of the aftereffects of her. We started off with one Morgan and now we are going to have many. Her attitude and her spirit are overflowing,” Steele said.
Steele said her daughter was a liberated spirit who told things like they were, but was also loving.
“She loved everybody. My three kids are so close. My son is taking it so bad. He and Morgan were really tight. ... He is such a sweet spirit, and he’s lost without her. He was proud of her. He was so very proud of her. She would keep him on his toes for sure,” Steele said.
The last time Steele saw her daughter was a few days before her death when they had lunch. Steele said during lunch they talked about whether Ciota was an organ donor. Ciota told her mom it was something she wanted to do.
Page 3 of 3 - “She wanted to donate her whole body. We missed the donor window. I think it’s very important for people to be aware of that and get signed up,” Steele said.
Looking at the texts she and her daughter exchanged often, Steele said the last one she sent to her daughter is eerie.
“I saved the last text from her. Saturday night all those storms came through St. Louis. Sunday, I said, ‘I wouldn’t go anywhere.’ She said, ‘Nope, they said I could stay here.’ I said, ‘Good.’ It’s kind of eerie. The last text I sent said, ‘I love you. I am so glad that we have the relationship we have. It means the world to me.’”
Now, Steele is left with the memories of her daughter, many of which are funny.
Steele said she has a fake fur coat that her daughter hated. Ciota asked her to get rid of the “hideous” coat if she bought her a new one, which she did.
“The next homeless person I see I am going to give that coat to. She hated that coat and that’s my mission,” Steele said.
Other random texts make Steele chuckle, even now.
In one text Ciota asked her mom if she could get her nose pierced.
“I said, ‘Morgan you’re 20 but I appreciate you asking. Just don’t blow your nose too much,’” Steele said.
In another text, Ciota said, “Mom, what if I had a reverse wedding?”
Steele learned that would be where her daughter would wear something stunning while everyone else wore white.
“She was like a little mini-me but she was better. If I could go back and be as confident and focused and together at 30 or even 40 that she was her whole life ... She was good. She was really good,” Steele said.
Steele said her daughter’s death was an accident and nobody’s fault.
“Mother Nature was just being a bitch. It was nobody’s fault. It’s just really heart breaking but at least I am able to see the legacy. I’m finding comfort and the blessings in that aspect. I think she did more in 20 years of her life than most people do in 60,” she said.