Tara Fitzgerald loved skateboarding, softball and playing the guitar.
The 17-year-old junior at Woodbury High School was also an avid reader and “exceptional” student who aced her SAT, had a passion for making funny videos and was a fan of Harry Potter and all things British, said those who knew her.
“She was not a big party girl. She was a leader, witty, with a sense of humor,” said Bill Hedahl, who coached Fitzgerald, along with his own daughter, on a softball team.
Those qualities make her death Saturday, which police say may have been the result of a drug overdose, even more difficult for grieving family members and friends to comprehend.
“This kid was special,” Hedahl said Thursday. “Right now, everybody’s in shock.”
Fitzgerald was pronounced dead Saturday morning at Regions Hospital in St. Paul, about an hour after responders were called to her parents’ Woodbury home on a report that she was unresponsive. Answers about exactly what killed her and who might be held responsible may not come for weeks, as Woodbury police continue to investigate.
Friends say she was having a slumber party, but declined to offer any details that may have shed light on why police are treating it as a potential drug overdose and homicide.
“It’s just a heartbreaking deal here,” Hedahl said.
Woodbury Police Cmdr. Steve Wills said there was evidence of the possibility of drug use at the scene, but declined to elaborate until the investigation is complete and toxicology test results are released in six to eight weeks.
“It’s a difficult case for everybody,” he said Thursday.
Extra counselors were on hand at Woodbury High School earlier this week after the school learned of Fitzgerald’s death, which Principal Linda Plante called a “devastating tragedy.”
“The Woodbury High School community extends its sincere condolences to the Fitzgerald family and all those close to Tara, who was an exceptional student in our school,” she said in a statement.
Fun-loving, but also serious
Fitzgerald often posted creative videos, loved skateboarding, music and like a lot of teens, her family said in her obituary, just making funny faces. While many of her peers favored pop stars, she preferred classic bands like Oasis and the Beatles.
When her softball team wasn’t doing well, it was Fitzgerald who kept her teammates’ spirits up, Hedahl said, making it fun to be on the team — win or lose.
She was proud of her Vietnamese and Irish Catholic backgrounds, and loved all things British — from Harry Potter to the Beatles, whom she paid tribute to on her Twitter page.
But she also had a serious side, and had aced her SAT test. “She wasn’t into the mindless teenage stuff,” Hedahl said.
Fitzgerald’s funeral will be at 11 a.m. Saturday at St. Ambrose of Woodbury Catholic Church. She’s survived by her parents, Mai and Thomas, and by a younger sister, Caitlin.
‘We’ve got to do something’
Washington County Attorney Pete Orput said additional arrests could follow the initial arrest of two 17-year-old boys and an 18-year-old man from Woodbury on suspicion of third-degree murder. They were released pending possible charges.
Orput declined to release any more details until the investigation is concluded. But he said authorities don’t suspect opioids such as heroin, methadone and prescription pills, which he said have been the top three drugs in teen deaths in the county.
“This is variations on one theme” he said of “good kids” getting high.
Last year, six people died of overdoses in Washington County. Orput’s office has been prosecuting fatal overdose cases vigorously, with three third-degree murder cases following overdoses the last couple years.
“When you get a kid death, it’s the worst thing that can happen to all of us,” he said. “We’ve got to do something about this.”