Terrilyn Monette: A Cautionary Tale

Terrilyn Monette 1987 - 2013

Terrilyn Monette
1987 – 2013

This past weekend a memorial was held in New Orleans for 26-year-old schoolteacher Terrilyn Monette, who after months of searching was found in her car at the bottom of Bayou St. John. Prior to this sad discovery, there was a lot of speculation as to what could have happened to her and why no one she knew had heard a word from her. Following this story in the media, I tried very hard not to jump to any conclusions regarding the many theories touted about her disappearance; however, in light of all of those as her family finally puts her to rest and tries to move forward, some things continue to weigh on my mind as a whole that I believe should be addressed.


"One for all, and all for one."

“One for all, and all for one.”

1) Never leave your girls hanging, no matter what.

Terrilyn had gone out with friends to celebrate her nomination for Teacher of the Year and was reported to have been too impaired to drive–whether that impairment was from having had too much to drink or being too sleepy or unwell to function behind the wheel of a car is unclear–and said to have decided to “sleep it off” in her car. This was the last contact Terrilyn’s friends, as well as the male witness who was reported to be the last to see her alive, had with her before she disappeared. I never did have much of a social life in that regard, but even with going to the movies or school dances or anything with a group of friends, my parents drummed it into my and my sister’s heads that it was our responsibility to see to our friends–to look out for them while we were out, to see them home safely (to the point of making sure they got inside their houses OK), and calling at least one of those dropped off earlier if you were the last to get home. Under no circumstances would I or any of my friends just leave anyone to “sleep it off,” even if that person insisted they would be OK. With all of the increasing reports of abductions and human trafficking rings, women are at a much bigger risk than ever before for falling into danger, and if traveling in large numbers can help stem that tide, we all need to be more aware and more vigilant with doing so. The advent of cell phones makes it infinitely easier to keep in touch and do so much faster than in the days with only landlines to depend on…and if it could be done back then, we can surely make it happen today.


Know what's in your glass at all times

Know what’s in your glass at all times

2) Guard your drinks at the club.

Again, only Terrilyn and her friends know for certain whether or not she overindulged at the bar (although the bartender at Parlay’s, where she was last seen, said that she did not appear to be drunk, tipsy or otherwise intoxicated); however, it is all too easy to fall victim to the spiked drink. The tips in this wiki are definitely good to keep in mind, as well as the “old school” habit of wearing a rubber band on your wrist when you go out, to be used to wrap a cocktail napkin around the top of your glass should you ever need to leave it unattended. Signs of tampering will be clearly evident and can help you avoid any opportunistic individual trying to take advantage. Of course, the most effective method is always to keep your drink in your sights or finish it before you walk away.


Every second counts--would YOU know what to do?

Every second counts–would YOU know what to do?

3) Be prepared and equipped to escape your vehicle in a dangerous situation.

Whatever happened between Terrilyn bidding her friends farewell and actually leaving the bar, we now know that she met her end in a tragic accident–one that is not common enough for most to have a quick enough reaction to successfully escape unharmed. These tips on how to escape from a vehicle going underwater need to be internalized by everyone–even though the chances of being in this type of accident are much slimmer, having this knowledge and being able to calmly and quickly act will literally mean the difference between life and death.

  • Keep an escape hammer handy: A standard hammer under the car seat will be effective, but an escape hammer would probably be best–they’re smaller and can fit inside the car door, have a concentrated point to easily break glass with one strike, and some even have a blade in the bottom part of the handle in case your seat belt jams and you need to cut yourself free. Experts who have practiced these techniques say to keep work gloves nearby to prevent cutting your hands, but a thick washcloth might do the trick. Though in a real situation, some minor cuts are infinitely better than the alternative.
  • DO NOT try to use your cell phone: If you can try to grab it on your way out of the car, great–it may or may not work, though, depending on how far under water you go and how wet it gets. But stuff–even stuff that might get you additional help–can be replaced, even with the nuisance of extra cost. How much will it cost to get water out of your lungs?
  • GET. OUT. Time is truly of the essence. Get out of the car and swim to surface as fast as you possibly can. If you have children or others in your car that may need assistance, get them out first and do your best to calmly and quickly get all of you to safety. Try even in this most tense of situations NOT to panic; panicking will cause shallow breathing, and that’s the last thing you want to do underwater.


Terrilyn Monette died in a tragic accident that may or may not have been preventable by any of the above. Still, her story serves as a clarion call to women (and really anyone) everywhere to be cognizant, conscious and prepared. If there is anything to be taken from this case, let it be that.


We can honor Terrilynn’s passion for children and learning in a couple of different ways:

1) Terrilyn’s school, Woodland West Elementary, kicked off a book drive in her honor. To contribute, please contact the school at:

Woodland West Elementary
2143 Mars Street
Harvey, LA 70058

2) The family of Terrilynn Monette and UNCF invite you to honor her memory by giving thousands of students the joy of discovering their intellectual potential. To donate to the Terrilynn Monette Scholarship Fund, please send contributions to:

1100 Poydras Street
Suite 1400
New Orleans, LA 70163


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