By Mallory Schlabach, Editor in Chief
To many, Tyler Sheets was a piece of heaven on earth. To others he was a super hero, brother, son and friend.
At age 19, friends say he was one of the wisest people they knew, and the kindest.
Tyler’s older brother Landon remembers his brother and best friend as thoughtful, honest and hilarious.
“He was always thinking of others and a selfless person. I always thought of him as absolutely hilarious,” said Landon, junior pre-med major, smiling.
“He was one of those people who could tell a funny joke with a straight face, but he was also one that could laugh at other people’s jokes too, and he was sincere that they were funny to him.”
Tyler, a freshman exercise science major from Muleshoe, was killed on Dec. 21 outside of Farwell when the truck he was driving struck a tree. The truck careened into the median. When Tyler attempted to corrected it, he over corrected and the passenger side struck the tree shortly before 4 p.m., according to police reports published in the Clovis News-Journal.
His mother, Bernita, said she felt God had put special blessings in their life, as a way of preparing them for his death.
On Wednesday, the day before the accident, the Sheets family awoke to a snow-covered landscape in Muleshoe. Bernita said she didn’t want Gini and Shelley, ages 17 and 14 respectively, to drive to school with the weather icy, so most of the family spent the day at home that Wednesday.
Although Bernita said she had wanted to clean and bake, she said the seven kids at home at the time: Sarah, Landon, Tyler, Gini, Shelley, Ben and Cori, bundled up and spent the morning playing outside and taking pictures of each other.
Later that afternoon, she said Landon, Tyler and Ben, who is 12, wanted to go hunting. Their father Kyle, a local physician in Muleshoe was supposed to be on call that evening, but decided to have someone else take his place so he could go hunting with the boys.
“I know that they didn’t get very far to go hunting because they kept getting stuck, but they just had a good time together and enjoyed each other’s company. We feel really blessed for them to have been able to spend that time together,” she said.
On Thursday, the day of the accident, many of the kids spent the day playing games together. The Sheets parents were getting ready to go to a Christmas party, and left the house at 3 p.m.
“I don’t always do this to all my kids when we go somewhere, but for some reason I turned around and gave Tyler a big hug before we left that afternoon,” she said. “I’m glad I did.”
Once the family received word that Tyler had been in an accident an hour later, they all began to pray.
“We didn’t know what would happen, but we began praying and calling others to be praying for Tyler,” said Zach, the oldest of the Sheets siblings.
Only half an hour after the accident, nothing would be the same for the parents and nine siblings left to mourn.
“It’s hard for us to talk about our family right now because everything we do is associated with our family, and now it’s different,” Zach said.
Tyler, No. 6 of the 10 kids, was known as a jokester and the one person in the family who knew how to make everyone feel special.
“He had a way of making everyone feel like they were the closest person to him in some way,” said his sister-in-law Kara. “I think all of his siblings and friends could tell you the way they felt closest to him.”
Her husband Zach said they were expecting twin boys in June, and because he had to commute to Dallas a lot last semester, Tyler would come over every day to make sure Kara was OK, to take out the trash and check on everything.
“I can’t tell you how much that meant to us,” Zach said. “A lot of people may have good intentions in their life, but Tyler always did the right thing, no matter what.
“He learned things in life that most people never learn in a lifetime.”
Zach said that when the family went to clean out his room at college, that they found three lists that Tyler had written: goals he’d like to accomplish, and things that brought him closer and drew him further from to God.
“His goals were all about making other people happy,” Zach said. “At the top of his list was to adopt an African child; to support Gini, Shelley, Ben and Cori, who are the youngest four siblings, in everything they do; to make one person smile every day. But I think he made enough people smile that he would have been good until he was 80, if he had lived.”
Tyler’s mom, too, said she felt that the lists were something special God had left for them.
“Tyler is not the type of person to be organized like that,” she said. “When he lived at home, he and Ben shared a room and they had a bet on who was the messiest. Tyler promised it was Ben, but we all knew it was really Tyler,” she said laughing.
“Oh, and Ben wants me to let you know that he won the bet when Tyler went to college; the room is much cleaner now.”
Bernita explained that Tyler often made bets with his siblings, explaining that it was part of his mischievous nature.
“When he was 10 or 12 years old, he made a bet with his sister Gini that he would pay her if he didn’t make it to the NBA by the time he was 15,” she said laughing. “He made a certificate for her and I signed as a witness.”
Brady Black, his best friend growing up, said Tyler was passionate about basketball and other sports, and that he remembers the times they spent playing together since the seventh grade.
“I had a joke with him every time we played basketball that he couldn’t ever be aggressive enough on the court when he was guarding someone,” Brady said. “Tyler was just so nice that he could never get mean. I told him this every time, and it still makes me laugh.”
The week before Tyler came home for Christmas break, his mom said that he had been calling Ben and Cori, the youngest sibling, every day to tell them to get the Christmas decorations out, to get the lights out and test them so they would be ready to put up when he got home.
“Tyler was so excited about Christmas,” Bernita said, “We have an old tree that was from my husband’s family that is so old we have to tie green garland around it to cover up the holes where you can see through it. I kept saying it was time to get a new one, but Tyler insisted that it was the perfect tree. It was the first thing he set up when he got home. We’ll probably never get rid of it now.”
Zach said that the night before he died, Tyler wrote a letter to their parents telling them how much he appreciated them. Terah, the second oldest, wanted to surprise the Sheets parents for their 30th anniversary with letters and words of wisdom, so Tyler had written it to give to her.
“My favorite part of the letter was when he wrote, ‘Papa, I love that we call each other when there are good games on to talk about them. Mom, I love laughing at corny jokes together. Those may seem like small things, but they are things I love every time.'”
Bernita said she often tells corny jokes and is the only one that laughs at them.
“Tyler laughed at my jokes with me every time, even if they were corny. He was the funny one.”
Cori, who is 10, said Tyler would help anyone and tease anyone, too. Her older siblings said that Tyler had about 500 different nicknames for her, or phrases that he called her.
“He teased me a lot. I always tried not to laugh, but it was hard because he was so funny. My favorite one he called me was the time he put Ted Nugent’s phone number, or fake number in his cell phone. Then he would pretend he had called him and say, ‘Cori, Ted Nugent just called and said he wants his shirt back.’ He and Landon did that all the time from Ocean’s 11 and it annoyed me so much. But I miss it.”
A super hero
Tyler’s uncle described him as a man after God’s own heart when they were discussing the life he lived. Landon and Zach said they felt that he somehow understood and knew that things on earth really weren’t that important, and that there were bigger things planned for him.
“Tyler really appreciated people and not just when they were around either. If you were talking bad about someone, he would gently remind you, “hey, I like this about his person, or they just told me a really funny joke the other day,” Zach said.
Tyler planned to get married, have kids and be a high school coach. Zach said Tyler loved kids and especially loved spending time with his younger siblings, Ben and Cori.
“I’m sure Zach would say the same, but if I even live to be half the man that Tyler was at age 19, then I’ll be happy,” Landon said watching Zach.
“I feel people can exaggerate who the person was after they’ve died,” Zach said nodding in agreement. “It sounds like we’re talking about a super hero right now. But we’re not exaggerating. That’s truly who he was. And those who knew him, know exactly what we’re talking about.”
Brady Black agreed and said he considers himself blessed to have known a friend like Tyler.
“Tyler’s life motto should have been ‘carpe diem’ because he seized life each day and lived like each one really was his last,” Brady said.
Tyler’s mom said the response from the community, friends and church has been amazing since his accident.
“People and love have come from everywhere,” she said.
More than $25,000 has been raised in Tyler’s honor so far, she said, and that money will be sent to Zimbabwe, Africa, to help the hospital that the family often goes on medical mission trips during the summers.
“Going to Africa was one of Tyler’s favorite things. He’d love that so many people are helping this cause,” she said.
With the death of a son, Bernita said that one only makes it by the grace of God and the hope that one day they’ll see him again in heaven.
“We know exactly where he is right now. I like to think he’s putting up more Christmas trees with grandma Sheets, who gave us our tree. The kids all think he’s shooting hoops with famous basketball players.”
She said she wanted parents to know this: “Families need to make sure that they love their children every day and lead them to God. We have wishes that he hadn’t drifted off the road that day, but we can seriously say we have no regrets about the way Tyler lived.”