William Peyton Taylor-Henson — ‘Pey Pey’ to close friends and cousins — wanted to have fun the week of his Friday graduation from Long Beach High School.
The 18-year-old spent the week with friends. They went to the beach, a place he loved, and, on Thursday, decided to go to the Wolf River.
He was looking forward to graduation and planned on going to college, although he hadn’t settled on a career.
“He was just having fun, enjoying life and being 18,” said Amanda De La Hunt, the girlfriend of Peyton’s father, William Taylor-Henson.
De La Hunt called Peyton on Thursday afternoon to see what he wanted for dinner. Peyton requested his favorite: homemade chicken tenders with mac ‘n’ cheese.
She promised to make the meal when she got off work.
Friday, the chicken was still in the refrigerator and Peyton was gone. He had been swimming his whole life. Still, a strong current in the rain-swollen waters pulled him under.
Wise beyond his years
His single father is grief-striken. It was Peyton and him all the teenager’s life.
Peyton was a sensitive young man wise beyond his years.
When he was around 8 years old, his Dad bought him a new pair of Jordan sneakers. Peyton was so proud he showed them off at school.
His dad told Peyton that evening he probably shouldn’t have been showing off the shoes, particularly to one boy whose family didn’t have much.
“I noticed the next day when he came home, he didn’t have the shoes anymore,” Taylor-Henson said. “He told me he felt so bad that (the other boy) didn’t have nice shoes that he gave him his shoes.”
He never asked his father to buy him things, with the exception of a video game now and then.
“I’ve worked really hard to have nice things and Peyton never really cared about nice things,” his father said. “He never felt like fancy things meant anything. He just wanted to treat people good and to love other people.”
A new life on the Coast
Father and son moved to the Coast from Tennessee eight years ago to be near family. The move was just what they needed.
“He was so happy to get to see his grandma and his cousins and my brother,” Taylor-Henson said.
Playing with his dog Bear was one of Peyton’s favorite past-times. He was also someone his friends called when they were having a hard time or needed advice.
Peyton’s advice, his father said, was always simple and to the point.
Peyton said things like: “It’s more important to love yourself than to make other people love you. Trying to impress people is just a waste of time because then you have to pretend to be somebody else.”
He never drank or got so much as a speeding ticket, his father said.
He started working a couple of years ago at The Rack House Steak & Spirits in downtown Gulfport. The staff loved him and is in shock over his death, said general manager Miles Gullett.
“It didn’t matter what was going on, he was always going to take time to stop and ask how your day was going,” Gullett said. “He always greeted everyone with a smile and never let negativity get to him.
“Regardless of someone’s bad mood, he would change it in a heartbeat. It seemed like his mission to do so. We’re going to miss Peyton. We’re going to miss Peyton a lot.”
Peyton’s father told his son he should ask to be a waiter at the restaurant.
“He would say, “Dad, I’m the best bus boy they have,” his father said. “‘They need me.’ ”
Peyton was eager to do anything around the restaurant to help, whether hosting or repairing equipment. When he finished one task, he wanted to know what was next.
He also cracked up the staff. Gullett said they never knew what Peyton might say next.
With the family’s permission, the Long Beach School District announced Peyton’s death on Facebook Friday morning in a post that included his senior portrait. The Facebook post had more than 1,000 likes and 1,500 shares before the day ended.
At the graduation ceremony, flowers and his cap and gown were on his chair, along with a poster signed by students. There was a moment of silence.
Peyton’s father crossed the stage wearing his son’s favorite hat and his watch. In his pocket were Peyton’s keys attached to his tassel.
“He was amazing and he was innocent,” Taylor-Henson said during the earlier telephone interview, Bear by his side. “He was pure, honest and brave. He was my whole world.”
Funeral arrangements set
Friends can visit the services for Peyton at 11 a.m. Wednesday at St. Thomas Catholic Church in Long Beach. A mass will follow. Interment is private.