When Rebecca Draper Townsend was 15 years old, she already knew exactly what she wanted to achieve before she died. So in December 2012 she dashed down those aims – just three in all – in a note that would remain hidden until after her tragic passing two years later. You see, the teenager’s life was heartbreakingly cut short, and it eventually became clear that it was all to do with the final item on her bucket list.
But when news of Townsend’s story broke, her tragic fate would actually go on to inspire others to try and make a difference in the world. This way of remembering the high school graduate seemed fitting, too, as she had freely given up portions of her time to help others when she wasn’t attending class or with her loved ones. And as it happens, Townsend proved her selflessness in the moments just before her own death – in an act that was all to do with her fateful bucket list.
Before the teenager’s untimely death, though, she had lived in Danbury, Connecticut – the same city where she had been born in August 1997. She had been the youngest child of Dr. Gary Townsend and Dr. Joan Draper, who also have four other daughters: Valerie, Monica, Stephanie and Victoria. And it’s fair to say that the young woman was part of a sizeable family.
After all, in addition to her siblings, Townsend had no fewer than 19 cousins and eight nieces and nephews at the time of her death. And just before the young lady passed away, she had finished her education at Immaculate High School in Danbury. It seems that Townsend had made the most of her time at high school, too, as she had taken part in a number of the Roman Catholic institution’s drama productions.
And as well as acting, Townsend was also academically gifted and named on the Distinguished Honor Roll for her school work. The teenager looked set to go on to college, too. In particular, she had been due to begin attending classes at the prestigious University of Notre Dame – whose alumni include former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. All in all, then, Townsend seemingly had a bright future ahead of her.
Tragically, though, it was not to be: Townsend died before she could ever set foot in the hallowed institution as a freshman. And so the University of Notre Dame paid tribute to the teenager after learning of her death. The college posted a statement to its official Instagram page in 2015 that reads, “Over the weekend, incoming first year student Rebecca Draper Townsend lost her life… Those on campus honored her with candles at the Grotto. Please keep her family within your prayers.”
There had been more to Townsend than just acting and studying, though. In fact, she had often engaged in charity work. The teenager had, for instance, given her time to the Head Start program – a charity that helps disadvantaged youngsters and their families from across the U.S. to improve their situations. And incredibly, this was far from the start of her volunteering career.
You see, while the teenager had still been enrolled at Immaculate High School, she set up a chapter of She’s the First. For those who don’t know, this organization aims to make a difference to the lives of girls across the world. According to the charity’s website, its members and supporters believe that “every girl – no matter where she is born – deserves to be educated, respected and heard.”
She’s the First’s CEO Tammy Tibbetts further explained the non-profit’s aims in a video published on its official site. There, Tibbetts explains, “We support girls around the world who’ll be the first in their families to graduate from high school. And along the way, we train students to be leaders.”
Happily, it seems that Townsend’s legacy lives on: the Immaculate High School branch of She’s the First continues to thrive as of 2019. And in May that year, members of the school also engaged in a staggering 5,000-kilometer (3,100-mile) sponsored run and walk – the fourth such occasion that they’ve put on – on behalf of the non-profit.
Touchingly, the event was inspired by Townsend herself. “The walk/run is in memory of Rebecca Draper Townsend, Immaculate graduate from the Class of 2015, who passed away in a tragic accident in July of 2015. Rebecca was the founder of Immaculate’s She’s the First chapter – one of the first high school chapters in the country,” the high school’s website explains.
The message continues, “Rebecca loved theater, fashion and travel. But most of all, she loved helping others – and that is what this walk/run is all about.” All in all, then, the event appears to be a fitting tribute to a young woman who seemingly wasn’t shy about stepping in and lending a hand to those who needed one.
And the high school’s poignant words echo those written by Townsend’s family as part of an obituary that was published in local newspaper The News-Times. They claimed of the teenager, “When she wasn’t baking cupcakes for a She’s the First fundraiser, playing volleyball or trying out the newest fashion trends, she could be found on stage or behind the scenes in many of Immaculate High School’s drama productions.”
Townsend’s obituary also gives further details of her brief life – including some of her favorite moments. “Her happiest memories were her adventures with her family traveling around the world, spending time back in Brookfield with her friends and her extended family trips to Cape May each year,” the tribute reads.
So it wouldn’t be unreasonable to think that the 17-year-old’s bucket list could have mentioned a desire to become a fashion designer. Perhaps she even expressed a wish to be a professional actor. But as it turns out, neither of these made the cut. Instead, the teenager had much more down-to-earth aspirations for the future.
What’s more, there were only three activities on the list – all of which give insights into Townsend’s hopes and dreams. And the first of these items, as it turns out, was connected to her love life. Yes, perhaps as a result of watching numerous romantic movies, the teenager wrote that she wanted to “kiss in the rain.”
Happily, Townsend was able to tick this off her list before she passed away. A Facebook post made just three days after the teenager’s tragic death revealed the eulogy that Victoria and Monica had written for her funeral, and their words honored the guy who had made that particular wish a reality. “To Niko – thank you for being the cute boyfriend she could kiss in the rain,” Townsend’s two sisters wrote.
Meanwhile, the second item was travel-related: simply, “Fly to Spain.” And yet again, it appeared that the teenager had been able to cross this ambition off. Yes, the eulogy revealed that Townsend’s parents had traveled with her to visit the European country, and her sisters subsequently took the opportunity to thank their mom and dad for making the journey.
But Townsend’s final ambition – not to mention the way in which the list was unearthed in the first place – adds a remarkable twist to the tale. You see, while the high school graduate managed to complete her third goal, the achievement ultimately came at a terrible cost to her own life.
On July 2, 2015, Townsend went out to watch a firework display that was being held in Danbury to celebrate Independence Day. While she and her friend Ben Arne were crossing a road close to Western Connecticut State University, however, an approaching vehicle ran down both teenagers.
Heartbreakingly, Townsend was later declared deceased at the nearby Danbury Hospital – her promising young life snuffed out in just moments. And Arne had sustained serious injuries as a result of the accident, although he fortunately recovered well enough to go home on July 4.
Naturally, Townsend’s family were devastated by the news that she was gone. In their grief, then, the 17-year-old’s sisters kept her memory alive by swapping tales with cousins that had gathered at the Townsends’ home. But as the relatives talked in the young woman’s room, they made a curious find.
Hidden among the personal effects in the teenager’s bedroom was a task that she had completed for school a few years previously. At that time, Townsend – then a sophomore – had been instructed to pen a letter to her older self. And that note had subsequently been returned to the young woman after she had graduated high school.
Monica and Victoria’s eulogy later touched on this eerie discovery. Townsend’s sisters wrote, “In Rebecca’s funny little way, she reached out to her sisters and cousins… when we were sitting in her bedroom [and] thinking about our favorite Rebecca memories. There, we noticed a little note in the middle of her bed as if laid out for us. It said simply, ‘For Future Rebecca Townsend.’”
The letter in question began by revealing some information about Townsend as she had been at 15 years old. The teenager had penned, “Dear me, so I guess I’m a senior now… Well, hi. Currently I’m a little sophomore. I’m five foot two, [and] I weigh 98 pounds. Maybe I’ll grow a little bit in the next two years.”
The then-15-year-old Townsend also lamented her lack of a love life, writing, “So I haven’t had a boyfriend yet, sadly. I really hope by senior year I’ll have a cute one.” She then added, “I think I want to go to college in a city. Maybe I’ll go to Fordham or Boston College.” And as it happens, the teenager’s wish of having a boyfriend did come true – as well as her dream of securing a place at a college near to a thriving metropolis.
The note then detailed Townsend’s bucket list before continuing, “I love the play and the volleyball team. I really want to be in one of our school musicals. Or get a lead in the play.” And the 15-year-old signed the missive off simply, writing, “Bye, me! Love, past Rebecca.”
So at the time that Townsend’s relatives discovered the letter, the teenager had already completed her bucket list. Yes, not only had the 17-year-old managed to kiss someone in the rain and fly to Spain, but she had also been able to cross off her final ambition: “Save a life.” You see, in the moments that had preceded Townsend’s death, she had made the ultimate sacrifice.
And after Ben had left the hospital, he would reveal exactly what had happened at the scene of the accident. Following his discharge from the facility, then, Townsend’s friend paid a visit to her parents and siblings, and he had some startling news to share with the young woman’s loved ones.
According to a 2015 report by BuzzFeed, Ben had told Townsend’s sister Victoria, “The last thing I remember [before the accident] is Rebecca pushing me and telling me to hurry up.” Yes, it appears that the 17-year-old’s final act before she was hit by a car was to push her friend out of the path of the vehicle – or far enough away to save his life.
Yet another of the teenager’s buddies would go on to explain that such a selfless act wasn’t unusual for Townsend. In 2015 Matthew Hooker told NBC Connecticut, “That was typically Rebecca.” He added, “I knew Ben… [He and Townsend] were good friends. They were always talking in the halls, and I’m not surprised that she would save him.”
So it seems that Townsend had managed to fulfill the last item on her bucket list just before she sadly succumbed to her own injuries. And according to Monica, the fact that her family had found the list in her room could very well have been a sign of sorts from her late sister.
After reading the note aloud at Townsend’s funeral, Monica explained just what discovering the message meant to her. “Who knows why [Townsend] was looking at that letter the night she left us?” she said. “But I think it’s her little way of telling us she is okay. She accomplished what she needed to, [and] she made it.”
And Townsend’s life has since been honored by the students whom she should have joined at the University of Notre Dame. Just days after the teenager’s death, members of the college’s Class of 2019 set up a GoFundMe page to raise at least $1,500. Fittingly, the money was ultimately intended to be donated to She’s the First.
She’s the First also paid a touching tribute to the teenager who had performed so much good work on its behalf. “Rebecca’s passion and energy for She’s the First has been an inspiration to all of us, and we are devastated at her loss,” the organization posted on its Facebook page after news of the young woman’s death broke.
The Facebook post continues, “[Townsend’s] chapter [of She’s the First] helped send a number of girls to school. But one that stands out to us is Joy, a third-grader in Uganda – whose very name reminds us of Rebecca’s impact on the lives of everyone around her, near or far.”
Facebook now also hosts a page named Remembering Rebecca, where users of the online platform can come together and share the good work that is still being performed in the 17-year-old’s name. “Rebecca was passionate about service work and charities – constantly working to better the lives of others. For this reason, we have made this page, where people can share a memory or document ways they have kept Rebecca’s spirit alive by showing kindness to others,” a post from 2015 reads.
Remembering Rebecca also showcases the many ways in which people have chosen to be altruistic. In 2015 Carissa Crawford decided to pay for a stranger’s yoga session, for example. And in an accompanying note, she wrote, “Please enjoy your yoga class in honor of Rebecca Townsend – a precious 17-year-girl who was taken from us one week today.”
Crawford’s message continues, “Rebecca was a firecracker who made it her mission to bring joy to those around her and help [anybody] and everybody [whom] she encountered. Live your life to the fullest and help spread Becca’s legacy of kindness!” The bottom of the note also included a link to the Remembering Rebecca Facebook page.
And other followers of the page – and its Instagram equivalent – have also been inspired to carry out random acts of kindness in Townsend’s memory by using the hashtag #RememberRebecca. For instance, one woman chose to donate some of her stem cells in honor of the young woman, and her friend uploaded a picture of the moment to Instagram. So, while the teenager’s hopes and aspirations for the future can sadly no longer be fulfilled, she is in some way still making a difference to the world.