Mother reflects on daughter’s death after Panama City graduation
PANAMA CITY — Roughly a year after 17-year-old Caroline Long was killed in a car crash, her mother said attending Bozeman High School’s recent graduation was one of the hardest things she’s had to do.
“We went back and forth about going,” Catherine Gilmore-Merritt said of attending her daughter’s school. “I’m kind of glad that it was raining because we could kind of get in and get out because the hard part is talking to people, but I’m very glad that I went.”
The Panama City resident added that as a former teacher at Southport Elementary and Bozeman High schools, she’s taught many of her late daughter’s friends and classmates.
"It was a unique situation in that these kids have grown up together since they were like (in) pre-K,“ she said. ”It wasn’t a normal graduation ... (and) I wanted to go for them.“
According to past reports from the Florida Highway Patrol, Long died at about 9 p.m. August 18. She was driving home from her job at the Starbucks in Destin’s Silver Sands Outlet.
FHP also reported that Long was struck by a driver who was traveling on the wrong side of the road. Both were pronounced dead at the scene.
According to Gilmore-Merritt, the other driver was under the influence of alcohol at the time of the crash.
When asked if there was any advice she’d give to the graduating class that she wishes she could give to Long, Gilmore-Merritt said it’s to stay close to friends and continue to be the tight-knit family that she said exists at Bozeman.
“Just enjoy every day ... and don’t lose touch with each other,“ Gilmore-Merritt said. “When you’re out drinking with your friends and go off to college, think about Caroline and how she died.
“Don’t let your friends drink and drive.”