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Friday, November 10th, 2006

Classmates pay tribute to Natalie

By Margie Wuebker

Kendal Smith and Kendra Menchhofer, both seniors at Celina High School, sign a C. . .

Signs decorate Natalie Feliciano's locker at Celina High School in silent tribute to a caring teenager who packed a lot of living into 17 short years.  
The mood was somber as students and staff try to come to grips with the sudden death of the honor roll student, cheerleader, band member and a runner on the track team Wednesday night.
"Why?" is a question family and friends wrestle with as the investigation continues. Celina Police have turned over their findings to Mercer County Coroner Dr. Timothy Heinrichs who will decide whether the death was accidental or the result of suicide.
A steady stream of people - many bearing casseroles and desserts - came to Betty Feliciano's James Drive home Thursday to offer support and to remember happier times.
Others stood in the garage where the young artist decorated the walls in Ohio State fashion with Brutus Buckeye caricatures and familiar block O insignias.
It was in this very setting that the black-haired girl with a mischievous glint in her dark eyes spent the final minutes of life.
Her mother arrived home shortly after 10:30 p.m. Wednesday, never expecting to find a tragic scene as the garage door lifted. The red Chevy Monte Carlo was running with the windows closed and the teenager seated inside unconscious and with no pulse.
"I called 911 and wonderful neighbors who heard my screams came running," Betty Feliciano says with tears welling in her eyes. "Oh Nat....."
Paramedics tried without success to resuscitate the girl and she was pronounced dead shortly after arriving at Mercer County Community Hospital in Coldwater.
Surrounded by framed photographs and stacks of photo albums, the grieving mother smiles through her tears.
"Nat was mischievous, fun loving and a real practical joker," she says. "She was a deep thinker who thought more than she spoke, especially around me. She was not the easiest child to raise and we did not always see eye to eye."
Fellow senior Staci Braun said classmates and underclassmen spent much of Thursday recalling memorable events. The chuckles generously laced with tears.
"We all have special memories," she says as Kami Menchhofer nods in agreement. "Nat brought Hershey kisses to Latin class every day. We shared them and passed the wrappers to a guy in back. He had quite a pile by the time class ended."
They recall their mischievous friend placing chalk out of the reach of "Miss Hayes" a diminutive teacher, roller blading at breakneck speed behind a bicycle or Daisy the family Beagle tearing through mud on a four-wheeler and placing Post-It notes or signs on lockers with obvious glee. She donated blood last week and loved reading and talking on a cell phone by the hour. She traveled throughout the world with her mom and friends say she looked forward to accompanying them on a senior trip to South Carolina or Florida.
The teenager had talked about pursuing a degree in interior architecture, possibly at Ohio University where her boyfriend, John Rhodes, goes. A diehard competitor and a member of the Premiere Lakers cheerleading squad, she reportedly was excited after a spectator at a Sunday competition commented she should have no trouble landing a spot on the University of Cincinnati cheerleading roster.
Devotion to her late father, Dr. Emiliano Feliciano, never wavered. Just 18 months at the time of his death in a traffic accident, she knew him through photographs and stories.
"Mel used to celebrate the monthly anniversary of her birth," Betty Feliciano says. "If there is any consolation in all of this, it is that they are together again."
Assistant high school principal Kevin Mast recalls seeing Natalie passing out grade cards at school on Tuesday. She vowed to bring in a photograph taken on a school trip to Stratford, Canada, for his bulletin board but never had a chance to keep the promise.
"Natalie was the kind of person who could mix with anybody at anytime," he says. "She could talk with peers or underclassmen without the least hesitation. Everybody knew her and her passing has made quite an impact."
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