When he walked into a room, the energy immediately changed, and people would turn to see his smile and what he was going to do next.
Michael Williams was the kid everyone wanted to be friends with and the boy his peers wanted to be like. If he got a new hair cut or color, his classmates started doing the same.
He wasn’t always the best student, and he got into trouble, at one point attending another school after he had gotten into trouble at Whiteland Community High School. But he was a loyal friend, and a person his younger brother and cousins wanted to grow up to be like, family members said.
Williams, 20, died earlier this month from a respiratory infection his body couldn’t fight off after a 2013 car accident that permanently changed him. Williams was a passenger in a car driven by a friend that was involved in a serious accident that November. Police said the vehicle was speeding, and multiple vehicles were involved in the crash. Two other teens, friends of Williams’, were injured, but Williams was severely injured.
After the accident, Williams was unable to speak, eat or care for himself. His family sent him to a rehabilitation center in Illinois after the accident to try to help him regain some of his abilities, but he was sent back home after about a month when he’d had no meaningful responses, his mother Mandie Hendrickson said.
From then on, his mother worked to get home healthcare to care for him, and in the last several months, after Hendrickson injured her foot and was temporarily unable to care for him, he had begun living at the assisted living facility where she worked.
She kept him there after her foot healed because she was able to spend more time with him — seeing him every morning when he got up, throughout the day during her shift and before he went to bed and she left for the day. And she didn’t have to worry as much at night about whether he would suffer a seizure or have trouble breathing.
Hendrickson sees her son as two different people — the Michael she knew before the accident, whose smile lit up the room, and the Michael she knew after the accident, who she hoped heard her “I love yous” and felt her kisses.
And now, she is mourning both.
But she also is remembering Michael as a 16-year-old, and feeling like she can finally mourn the loss of the son who was learning who he wanted to be before the accident, she said.
“You go from being the center of attention, loud and obnoxious to someone who doesn’t make an expression or sleeps,” his mother said.
Since his death, Hendrickson has been remembering and hearing more of those stories about her son, the 16-year-old, who loved playing basketball and football, who was written up several times in school for talking back and who knew exactly how to charm his mother into getting what he wanted, she said.
“He was just trying to figure out who he was at that age,” she said.
Michael was surrounded by friends, no matter where he went, his mother said. And he was loyal to those friends, including ones he hadn’t been close with in years, she said.
He wanted to make music with his friends. He played both defense and offense in football, a sport he had played since age 5, and played on the basketball team at Whiteland Community High School. And while he didn’t go to school for the educational part, his mother never had to force him to get out of bed because he wanted to get there to see his friends, she said.
“He got up everyday and lived,” she said.
Michael was well-known among friends and family for his smile and his jokester attitude, but also his good heart.
“He loved to make people laugh. He was a charmer,” Mandie Hendrickson said.
In a room full of people, Michael stood out, his aunt Lynette Hendrickson said.
He was always the center of attention, which likely came from him being the first boy in a family filled with girls, she said.
Michael was someone others wanted to be around, whether that was his classmates imitating his style or his 2-year-old cousin he loved to roughhouse with, who always came back for more, she said.
When Michael walked into a room, he lifted everyone’s spirits, his cousin Ebony Hendrickson said.
“It’s just sad he had to go so soon,” she said.
People wanted Michael to be the center of attention because he made people have fun, his aunt Leann Odedina said. Michael was carefree, and a clear leader, never a follower, she said.
“Even in 16 years, he lived a full life,” Lynette Hendrickson said.
Michael’s death is bittersweet, his mother said. He isn’t suffering, but his family also has lost him, she said.
In the weeks after the accident, friends and family wore wristbands that said “Fight Big Mike,” and her younger son’s band recently broke. Mandie Hendrickson was upset, but her son wasn’t, and she struggled to understand why, she said.
But then 13-year-old Avery explained that his brother’s fight was finally over. “He’s done fighting, he’s resting,” he told his mother.
And his mother knows he is right, she said.
“He’s up there. He’s happy. He didn’t want to live like that,” Mandie Hendrickson said.