Brittany Mongeon liked to be noticed.
When the 15-year-old began her freshman year at Gwynn Park High School in Brandywine, she told her mother that she was going to stand out. Wearing skimpy clothes was a tired trend. Baggy clothes were played out as well.
So one day, Brittany showed up at school wearing a T-shirt, pajama bottoms and house slippers. It became her uniform. "They called her pajama girl," said her mother, Rebecca Mongeon.
Soon her friends and other girls -- even seniors -- were following her lead and wearing sleepwear to school.
Brittany was riding in a Dodge Neon on Brandywine Road with one of those friends at 2:20 p.m. on Nov. 20 when the driver lost control and crashed into a tree. The car caught fire, and Brittany did not make it out.
The Mongeons, who describe themselves as strict parents, knew something was wrong that Sunday because Brittany, who was never late, did not come home on time. They got no answer when they called her cell phone and the friend's phone. Brittany had spent the night with the friend, who was to drive her home.
Sensing that something was amiss, her father, Robert Mongeon, jumped into his truck and drove toward the friend's house. On Brandywine Road, he saw the friend's blue Neon wrapped around a tree. A police officer there told him that a 13-year-old and a 17-year-old went to a hospital, but Mongeon couldn't find out what had happened to the 15-year-old.
Exasperated, he asked a television reporter who was on the scene: "Was this a fatal crash?" The reporter said yes.
"When it happens, you want to tear the world apart," Robert Mongeon said. "You can't explain it, you're so empty."
Brittany's death makes her one of a half-dozen teenagers in the Washington area who have died in car accidents this year, said John Townsend, a spokesman for AAA Mid-Atlantic.
The two other teenagers in the car that afternoon -- the 17-year-old driver and her 13-year-old brother -- were hurt but their injuries were not life-threatening, police said. All three were students at Gwynn Park.
Investigators were waiting for crash technicians to finish reconstructing the scene before determining whether to charge the driver.
At their Brandywine home last week, Robert Mongeon, 41, and his wife, Rebecca, 32, were still stunned by the loss of their daughter, who was a sophomore this year. They pointed to the shrine in the family sitting room: several large bouquets of flowers and two enormous pink pieces of poster board, with dozens of pictures of Brittany, from birth until shortly before her death.
She was their firstborn and their only daughter.
"She wanted to travel, she wanted to join the Marines, she just wanted to be somebody," said Rebecca Mongeon. "She wanted to be recognized."
Brittany was feisty and outspoken, and always had to have the last word, her parents said. She liked to shop, fish and talk about politics. Her music tastes ranged from hip-hop to country.
The Mongeons have two sons, ages 8 and 11, and a niece who lives with them. Rebecca Mongeon said they are keeping her from falling apart.
"You have to keep yourself together, because you have three other kids," she said.
The windows of their ranch-style home in rural Brandywine are splattered with hot pink writing:
RIP Brittany Nichole Mongeon! 1990-2005. Always N forever loved by all and never hated! Too cool to hate!
Mongeon said his daughter worked some in the office at the auto repair shop where he works as a transmission technician. When the two were not working together, she would jump in the passenger side of his truck and accompany him wherever he went.
"She was a terrific girl, totally awesome," her father said. "She was full of life."
William Garrow King Jr., principal at Gwynn Park, said that since he took the job two years ago, there have been three major car accidents involving students. Two of his students ended up in the hospital with serious injuries; Brittany was the only one killed.
Teenagers were dying at such an alarming rate in crashes in the Washington region that Maryland legislators this year passed laws restricting their cell phone use while driving and the passengers they can carry.
"It is only by a matter of inches or fate that they survive or don't," King said. "Teens think tomorrows are guaranteed. They don't look at the preciousness of life the same way we do, as we get to the other end of the spectrum."