T.J. Traxler and Brittany Mederos share something tragic — and painful — in common.
Six years and 20 miles apart, they each, as terrified teenagers in Scottsdale and Gilbert, hid in their homes while making frantic 911 calls. Each heard the sounds of their mothers being shot and killed, both victims of domestic violence as they tried to end their relationships with the men who would take their lives.
Traxler, who lost his mother in 2006 when he was a 12-year-old boy with braces on his teeth, now is 18 and will talk a little about how far he has come since then. Mederos, also 18, who lost her mom two weeks ago, is not ready to talk about it at all.
A little more than six years ago, T.J. Traxler was known as the kid who hid in his bedroom closet on Mother’s Day, placing a frantic 911 call seconds before his mother, Nicole “Nikki” Traxler was shot to death by a former high school friend at their home.
Nicole Traxler, 36, was a former school teacher-turned-popular restaurateur. She had been trying to end a relationship with the man who reconnected with her after he had been released from prison months earlier for killing another high school girlfriend.
Nicole and T.J. had returned to their north Scottsdale home in the Grayhawk neighborhood after spending the evening at a motorcross track in the Valley — one of T.J.’s favorite pastimes — just minutes before the tragedy. T.J. was afraid to come out of the closet even after police arrived. The man responsible for Traxler’s death also turned the gun on himself the following day.
“It was a very scared and very brave young boy who made that 911 call,” Scottsdale police Sgt. Mark Clark said at the time. “We were glad that he was able to get out of the house safe.”
That kid who hid in the closet now is a young man moving ahead and planning for his future.
On Thursday, May 24, T.J. again will march forward, this time to “Pomp and Circumstance.”
When he dons his cap and gown for the graduation ceremonies at Polaris High School in the Paradise Valley Unified School District, he will be graduating as the No. 1 student, at the top of his class of 47 students, according to school counselor Nancy Piciucco. It was a climb for T.J. made possible in part by the support of his close friends, Cole and Jana Waldren, his aunt and uncle, Michelle and Jay Macklin, and his grandfather, Frank Meglio.
“It is a success story,” said Polaris principal Jean Scharrer.
Piciucco, who described T.J. as respectful, said of his accomplishments: “It’s a beautiful thing. “He works hard. He’s really come a long way. We’re just really, really proud of him.”
Sitting inside a Coffee Bean and Tea shop in north Scottsdale on Wednesday, T.J.’s eyes filled with tears when asked about how far he’s made it since his mother’s untimely death.
Through it all, he’s never let the tears blur his vision to the point he couldn’t see a brighter future for himself.
A well-rounded student graduating with all A’s and B’s, T.J. is strong in math and likes longboarding. As he dabbed his eyes with a napkin, T.J. said he felt embarrassed by the tears. But in fact, he has nothing to be ashamed of.
“It’s just been hard,” said T.J., who will turn 19 on May 26.
He attended Polaris his senior year after living with his father, James Traxler in Calgary, Alberta, Canada for the last two years. T.J. didn’t like the cooler temperatures there, and said it wasn’t much fun, especially when it was 40 degrees below zero. T.J. also had attended a school in Idaho before moving to Canada.
Peggy Beesley, a Polaris math teacher, described T.J. as very polite, pleasant and hard-working.
“He definitely has a strong work ethic,” Beesley said. “He wasn’t afraid to ask for help, and that shows a lot of strength. He actually got his classes done earlier than his classmates. A lot of times, his peers tried to get him off task, but he was very mature about it and got his work done.”
More recently, T.J. and his aunt have been shopping for his graduation clothes, while he also has found time to work at the Starfire Country Club, a job he started about two weeks ago.
T.J. has been accepted to Northern Arizona University where he plans to major in business.
“I think he’s a strong, amazing person,” said his aunt, Michelle Meglio Macklin. “He self-consciously made the decision on his own that he knew he needed to graduate. He loves his job. We’re proud of him. He’s been through a lot.”
Brittany Mederos has been through a lot too.
On May 3, as she hid in their Gilbert home, Brittany made a 911 call to Gilbert police just before J.T. Ready, the boyfriend her mother was trying to leave, shot and killed her mother, Lisa Mederos, and three other members of her family — her older sister, Amber Mederos, 23; Amber’s daughter Lily, 15 months; and Amber’s fiance, Jim Hiott, 24. Ready then shot and killed himself.
One of Amber’s friends who had contacted the Tribune said on Wednesday that Brittany was still too distraught to talk about the tragedy.
In fact, Brittany is moving to Tampa, Fla., to live with her father, Hugo Mederos.
T.J. was aware of the Gilbert shootings, and although he understandably did not want to talk again about any shootings, he did offer some insight for how Brittany will be able to move on.
“It gets better after a while, but it takes time,” T.J. said. “I just know I’ve got to work hard.”
And that hard work is taking him toward a brighter future.
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