Student’s sudden death stuns family, community

The sudden, untimely death of a Grand County High School sophomore just before the start of the school year has left many in the community saddened and stunned.

Instead of taking Sam Woodruff to get his driver license permit and sign up for school this week, his mother and grandmother have been making arrangements for the boy’s funeral.

Shortly after 4 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 10, Woodruff, 15, was found dead in the bathroom at his Moab home by his mother, Merry Woodruff, and his adoptive grandmother, Sandi Roedel. The mother and grandmother called 911 when they couldn’t get Sam to respond from behind the locked door. Police and emergency responders arrived within minutes of the call, but were unable to revive the teen.

Woodruff had apparently been preparing to take a bath, as he often did to relax, when he slumped over into the tub, his mother said. There were no signs of trauma or struggle, she said.

“I think his heart just gave out on him,” said Merry Woodruff, adding that an autopsy was performed, which she hopes will shed some light on what happened. The autopsy results are expected within a couple of months, she said.

Sam Woodruff, who was listed as a 6-foot-2, 230-pound lineman for the Grand County Red Devil football team, had participated in football practice the night before and on Saturday morning, and was getting ready to head back to another practice on Saturday evening when he passed away, according to his mother.

Within hours of Woodruff’s death, the news had spread throughout the Moab community via Facebook, cell phone texts, and other media. Students organized a candlelight vigil that took place Sunday evening at the high school football field. At least 200 people attended the event, including family members, friends, and football teammates.

“When you’re young, you don’t think about death because you don’t expect it to happen,” Assembly of God pastor Vernon Finck told the crowd. After citing scriptures saying how long ancient Biblical prophets had lived, Finck said each person’s time on Earth is up to God. “If you live right, you’ll die right,” he said.

The football team also paid tribute to Woodruff at the vigil, expressing their condolences to Merry Woodruff and dedicating this year’s football season in honor of their fallen teammate.

“All summer long, Sam has been working hard in practice, showing up early to work out in the weight room,” said GCHS head football coach Dennis Wells, adding that Woodruff recently earned a spot on the weight room leader board by bench-pressing 225 pounds.

Wells said that during a football team “family night” bonding session last week, Woodruff got up three separate times to share his appreciation and love for his teammates, who responded in kind.

“It was an emotional experience,” Wells said.

He said many of the players and coaches are still struggling to come to terms with Woodruff’s passing. The Red Devil football players plan to wear stickers bearing Woodruff’s “62” uniform number on their helmets, Wells said.

Although Woodruff had worn jersey number 66 for the Grand County Middle School Thunderbirds football team and was scheduled to wear 68 this season, 62 is the number he wore last year for the Red Devils as a freshman, Wells said.

“Sam found himself this summer,” GCHS assistant football coach Joe Day said in a Facebook posting. “He has been trying to find a place to fit in the last two years that I have known him. He found a place with our football family. Sam didn’t miss a day lifting, conditioning or practice all summer. The team treated him as one of their own. He fit in and was enjoying the experience.”

Football players praised Woodruff for his positive attitude and work ethic.

“I really took for granted having Sam as a friend and a brother, and now that I look at it, I feel blessed that he was on my blitz team and got to really talk with him this week,” said teammate Adam Flanders. “He was the kind of guy that went to the weight room two hours before it was even opened.”

“I know he had such an amazing morning with all his football family,” fellow lineman Edgar Gomez, a senior, posted on Facebook. “This is one of the saddest days of my life, but knowing that his own mom said he was the happiest and always smiled so big before and after practices. I know it was because he was with his favorite people and he knew everyone loved him,”

Those who knew Woodruff well said he enjoyed working on vehicles in the school’s automotive shop, and also liked spending time on the computer. Numerous students recalled Woodruff’s friendliness and kind personality.

“I don’t think anyone can understand just how much it meant to see that many people at the vigil,” said GCHS student body president Brendon Henderson, who planned and helped organize the vigil. “Now, it’s time for me personally to start the healing process and think of all the good that Sam has given to me and to this world. Now, it’s time to better myself. Now, it’s time to live for Sam.”

He recalled Woodruff’s happy and helpful personality.

“No matter what, that kid always had a smile on his face and was always willing to help anyone, no matter who you were. He was truly remarkable,” Henderson said.

Woodruff was a member and priesthood holder in the LDS Church and attended the Moab 1st Ward regularly, although he sometimes went to other wards, such as the Moab 3rd Ward, “because they had cute girls there,” his mother said. He recently attended a three-day youth conference with the youth of the Moab LDS Stake in Logan, Utah in late July.

Even though he was an only child raised by a single mother, Woodruff is survived by many extended family members, both blood relatives and adoptive, all of whom loved and cherished him, Merrry Woodruff said.

“We express our deepest appreciation to everyone, for all they have done for Sam in his life, and for all the well-wishes,” she said.

A celebration of life memorial service for Sam Woodruff has been scheduled for 4 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 16, at the Grand County High School auditorium. Interment will follow at the Sunset Memorial Gardens cemetery. A viewing will be held Thursday, Aug. 15, from 6 to 8 p.m. at Spanish Valley Mortuary, 386 North 100 West, in Moab.

The Red Devils are scheduled to play a “Red and White” scrimmage football game on Saturday, Aug. 17, at 7 p.m. Coach Wells said donations will be collected at that game to help Woodruff’s family pay for funeral expenses.

ByBy Jeff Richards

Contributing Writer