They knew then, she said, that the deaf community had lost two of its own: Laura Snyder-Gardner, 48, a beloved teacher at Gallaudet University in Northeast Washington, and her 16-year-old daughter Mary Ann, a junior at the high school on the Gallaudet campus.
They laid the flowers — the brightest they could find — on the ground.
“Bright colors, always bright colors,” Evatt, a freshman at Gallaudet, said through an interpreter. “That just reflects their personalities. When you went into their house, there wasn’t a boring wall. There was color everywhere.”
Even before authorities officially identified the victims of the early morning fire on Manor Road, the mourning began. In the close-knit deaf community, the news traveled swiftly and horrified friends and strangers, near and far. Students at Gallaudet, the country’s only university for the deaf and hard of hearing, donned clothes in shades of pink and yellow — two of Mary Ann’s favorite colors. On Facebook, photos of the mother and daughter bloomed, including a series showing Laura Snyder-Gardner signing “I love you.” Video tributes using sign language sprouted on the Web.
As of Thursday, fire officials had only named Laura Snyder-Gardner as a victim of the fast-moving fire, which remains under investigation. They said it would take more time to identify the second victim and for the medical examiner’s office to determine the cause of death. It is not known if the family had special fire detectors for the deaf, authorities said. Two dogs and eight cats also died in the fire.
Longtime family friend Rocco Leo Gaglioti, a board member of a nonprofit organization that Snyder-Gardner helped found, said his family is reeling. They had just spent time with the woman last week in Los Angeles.
“Laura has the most beautiful laugh,” he said. “When she laughs, it just lights up the room.”
He described Mary Ann as a jokester, a “little sister.” She attended space camp, had just competed in a deaf basketball championship game and participated in math competitions.
Laura Snyder-Gardner and Gaglioti’s mother, Bonita Leek, managed Miss & Mister Deaf International, an organization designed to promote deaf people worldwide. Gaglioti said Snyder-Gardner also had two older sons, one who went to Gallaudet and another who serves in the military.
Snyder-Gardner, who had two master’s degrees, taught math in the General Studies Program at Gallaudet and helped coach soccer at the secondary school. Before moving to the Washington area, she taught at Florida School for the Deaf and Blind in St. Augustine.
Amber Savard, 20, a sophomore at Gallaudet who is from St. Augustine, said Snyder-Gardner was once her teacher.