Remembering Chamblee Student Laila Harris

Laila+Paris+poses+in+her+outfit+for+the+Chamblee+2022+Homecoming+Dance.

Laila Paris poses in her outfit for the Chamblee 2022 Homecoming Dance.

Hannah Choy, Reporter

In the late fall of 2022, Chamblee student Laila Harris (‘25) passed away unexpectedly. Teachers and students remember her presence in and out of the classroom, reminiscing on moments they shared with her.

Ms. Kimberly Nesbitt, her World Literature teacher, remembers Harris’s personality vividly.

“She was a ball of fire. She lit up the room when she came in, probably not always in a positive way, but she made her presence known all the time. She had a little bit of a turbulent past, I think from the past school she was at, but she was really trying to do better in this new environment,” said Nesbitt, “she was very outspoken, and that’s what was unique about her. She tried new things and wasn’t afraid to fail.”

Mr. Matthew Echols, Laila’s Intro to Physics teacher, recalls his first meeting with Laila earlier in the fall of 2022.

“I taught Laila third period Physics, ninth-grade Intro to Physics. She came to me around, I want to say, roughly about two weeks before homecoming. I’ll never forget [that] before I moved [her to] this [front] table […] she was sitting in the back there. She was really quiet. She took to herself, not really engaging with the students, but in a matter of a week and a half, she had so many friends. It was really refreshing to see her, coming from out of state at the time, meeting with all the students. They meshed so well it seemed like she literally came from middle school with them,” said Echols.

When asked, assistant principal Ms. Ariana Magee recollects Harris for her way of always finding Magee.

“The way that I’m going to remember Laila is that she always had a way of finding me. Even when I wasn’t in the building, she would find somebody who could find me to deliver whatever message it was that she needed to deliver to me. I guess I was like her ‘school mom,’” said Magee.

Magee remembers one instance where Harris even managed to get in contact with Magee, who was at an educators’ training session, through one of the other teachers.

“One time I was at a training and I got a message from one of the teachers that “Laila is looking for YOU and she needs to talk to YOU.” When I finally came back, [Laila] goes, “I needed you and you weren’t there,” and I’m like, “I had to do my job!” So I’m gonna remember her as the kid who could always find me no matter what,” said Magee.

Similar to Nesbitt, Magee explains that Harris was known for her big personality, but also as a kind, thoughtful friend.

“She was very outspoken, but genuinely just a really sweet girl. I feel that sometimes she was misunderstood, but if you break away from the outer layers of her, she was genuinely the sweetest student. I saw her one time [when] I was in the cafeteria and she brought [food] she made the night before, individually packed for every one of her friends because she liked cooking,” said Magee.

Sanai Cooper (‘26) seconds Laila’s thoughtfulness, recounting when they went to a basketball game together.

“We had gone to the basketball game together, and she brought me some food and I took her pictures,” said Cooper.

A common theme among the interviewees was that while Harris may present a hard exterior, she was a genuinely kind, considerate, and loving person.

Echols even compares Harris to a pomegranate, with a hard outside encasing a sweet interior.

“She was funny. She was a breath of fresh air every time she walked through there. I would like to call her dramatic– it was just always something with her, oh my gosh. But she was a sweet soul,” said Echols. “I would call her a pomegranate– very hard on the outside, but very soft and sweet on the inside once you break her open and get to know her, understand where she’s coming from.”

Harris’ love for cooking and sharing her food with her friends was evident among those who knew her.

“She cooked one time [for] some of the students in the classroom. I think it was like shrimp alfredo, and it smelled really good. I didn’t try it, but it smelled really good. What she was, she was very gifted,” said Echols.

Harris also enjoyed beauty and aesthetics, potentially wanting to pursue a career in that field. 

Echols observed this interest that Harris had quickly, particularly with the then-upcoming homecoming dance.

“I think, if I can remember, she was definitely interested in hair. I’ll never forget, it was right before homecoming that weekend, and she came in and […] she was so excited. She said she had her dress, she was getting her hair done, and she was super excited to go to homecoming. I don’t know if that was her first-ever homecoming, but she was really excited. I saw a picture of her homecoming dress and she looked so gorgeous, she looked so nice,” said Echols.

Magee shares her conclusions about Harris’ possible career aspirations, found to be in agreement with Echols.

“I kind of feel like she wanted to be a hairdresser or something, just judging by [the way] she had different hair every time [I saw her],” said Magee.

Harris’ varying hairstyles seem to be a sort of trademark of her personal style, something noted by many in their descriptions of Harris.

“She liked to get her hair done, and her nails. I mean, she always switched her hairstyles,” said Cooper.

For Nesbitt, her favorite memory of Harris was their time together at after-school tutorial sessions.

“She came to the tutorial after school on Tuesdays, so we would have discussions at that time period. That’s what I’ll miss most about having her because I know that she was really a good kid and it was very important,” said Nesbitt.

For Magee, her fondest memory with Harris, besides when she “found” Magee at her training, is the way Laila would greet and rely on Magee for support.

“I’m sitting in my office, and she really did not care about the front office staff as she would literally walk right past, stand right at that front door, and go, “Ms. Magee!” And I’m like “Yes, Laila.” “How’d you know it was me?” I think, who else would do that?” said Magee.

Despite only meeting each other this year, Harris quickly found a close confidant in Magee.

“I’m new to Chamblee, so this was my first time meeting her. I met her because I’m [in charge of] attendance, how I meet a lot of [students], and Laila was having issues with attendance. Digging deeper, there were some other things and I kind of felt like she might need a mentor. I’m good at [finding] kids who need somebody to advocate for [them] at school, so that’s how I met her,” said Magee.

One story Magee shares show just how much Laila trusted Magee to be her support system at school.

“I’m gonna remember one day when I’m just standing in the hall, and [Laila’s] in tears. She didn’t tell me what was wrong, but she just came and gave me a hug. We came into the office and we talked about it, and she was better. So that’s how I’m gonna remember her– as a loud, but sensitive student,” said Magee.

Magee explains that other teachers have shared their own memories of Harris with her as well.

“When I talked with Ms. Peyton, she said that Laila was a part of my Amen choir in the class, kids who always agreed with what I said,” said Magee.

Echols says that he will always remember Harris for her respectfulness, friendliness, and humor.

“Out of all the students I’ve had in my years of teaching, Laila was probably one of the most misunderstood students that I’ve ever taught. You can tell coming in that she was hard or standoffish because of her fear of being judged. I felt it was more of a nervous deflection from just really truly showing who she is,” said Echols. “I’ve always admired that, no matter where she went, she always stayed true to herself. She didn’t change, she didn’t want to fit in. I’ll always remember [Laila] as a respectful young lady who was just misunderstood.”

“Mr. Echols is trying to organize something that we want to give to the mom because while death is forever, we don’t want her mom to think that we forgot about her,” said Magee.

Echols has two main forms of tribute he hopes to complete: a wooden laser-engraved portrait of Harris and a banner signed by all of her friends.

“Ms. Nyugen from the Art Department, shoutout to her, did a portrait picture of her laser engraved into the wood. I was able to get that made and sent to her mom. The next thing I want to get is a banner that says, “We love you, Laila,” and has it signed by all of her friends, containing positive messages and memories. [I want to] have that rolled up and sent to her mom as well,” said Echols.

Among the students, Harris is still remembered fondly as being a talkative, funny person, and continues to live in her peers’ memories.

“People talk about her, I know that for sure. People still say “R.I.P Laila” and stuff like that,” said Cooper.

While Harris’ time at Chamblee was unfortunately cut short, her presence will continue to live on through the people whose lives she touched.

“It was unfortunate that I didn’t get a longer period with her, but I will always remember her jokes, her laugh, and definitely how open and friendly she was with a lot of the students,” said Echols.

As Magee said, “We are not going to forget about her.”