How a quiet girl selflessly loved those around her


Madison Sparrow stood beside a plastic fold-up table, boxes of Girl Scout cookies resting atop a makeshift tablecloth.

Clad in warm winter clothes and a Brownie vest identifying her as part of Troop 377, she smiled as her fellow third-graders attempted to attract buyers.

“Feed the horses hay!” the girls shouted from underneath a colorful banner that advertised their troop, the paper decorated with stickers. Hearts, smiley faces and peace signs drawn in marker filled in areas not covered by the sparkly decals.

Madison Sparrow, right, with fellow Girl Scouts in February 2013.
Provided by Heather Sparrow Murphy

“Hay for the horses!”

Madison was usually quiet, reserved around those she didn’t know well. But here with her friends — many of whom she would remain close with for years to come — she was boisterous, energized by the thought of ponies.

The young girl wasn’t particularly athletic, a trait that would remain constant throughout middle and high school no matter what sport she tried. She loved riding horses though, which is how the scout troop ended up at the cookie stand screaming about hay.

Each year, Heather Sparrow Murphy, Madison’s mother and troop co-leader, would allow the girls to pick a charity that would receive some of the money raised from cookie sales. Often, the funds went to support programs for military families or local animal rescue organizations, such as Faithful Friends Animal Society.

Mementoes of Madison Sparrow are displayed in her bedroom.
Mementoes of Madison Sparrow are displayed in her bedroom.
William Bretzger/Delaware News Journal

This year, 9-year-old Madison and a fellow scout had driven the charge, settling on a nonprofit horse farm. The troop would purchase hay for the animals and help fix the stables.

Murphy was somewhat skeptical, but it’s what the girls had voted on. She wasn’t going to defy them.

Nearly a decade later, Murphy, troop co-leader Andrea Lenzini and several of the former scouts gathered in Murphy’s living room, laughing as they recalled the day they learned just how expensive hay was. Though their impact on the nonprofit may not have been as large as they hoped at the time, the memories certainly make up for it.

Hundreds of people gather Friday, Oct. 9, 2020, at Newark Charter School to memorialize Madison Sparrow.
Hundreds of people gather Friday, Oct. 9, 2020, at Newark Charter School to memorialize Madison Sparrow.
William Bretzger, Delaware News Journal

That day selling cookies and shouting about hay was so indicative of who Madison was, they said on a recent summer evening.

In front of most, the teen — who was 17 when she was killed in October 2020 — was unassuming and introspective, someone who quietly let others take the lead. At times, this made her hard to read, said her father Richard Prestidge.

Once she let you in, however, you were in.

“She had like a shell almost, and you had to open up to her for her to open up to you,” said Sierra Fedorka, a longtime friend and fellow Girl Scout. “Once you did, you could not shut it. The number of times I’ve been jumped on by that girl when we all dog piled onto each other is crazy.”

Heather Sparrow Murphy talks with friends of her daughter Madison (from left), Payton Price, Zahiyah Shubert Saunders and Sierra Fedorka in Madison's bedroom.
Heather Sparrow Murphy talks with friends of her daughter Madison (from left), Payton Price, Zahiyah Shubert Saunders and Sierra Fedorka in Madison’s bedroom.
William Bretzger/Delaware News Journal

With friends, Madison was silly and spunky, the one who almost always suggested sneaking downstairs during sleepovers for a midnight — or perhaps closer to 3 a.m. — snack. Nutella was her favorite, though Oreos would also do.

As fun-loving as she was, her home the epicenter for sleepovers even after her death, she was also caring and gentle, especially when it came to young children.

Where most teens want nothing to do with their younger siblings or their friends’ little brothers and sisters, Madison was patient and welcoming, encouraging the siblings to hang out.

She’d perform magic shows with them and during the coronavirus pandemic, she tutored several children. Though this sometimes bothered her friends — after all, what teenager wants their younger sibling tagging along — Madison didn’t care. 

Zahiyah Shubert Saunders, Madison’s longtime friend
She wouldn’t want it for her. But she would do it, because it would help someone else.

Even when her younger sister Molly got on her nerves, she still loved the girl to pieces.

This love for others — and Madison’s selflessness — is what’s kept her friends and family going in the nearly two years since her death.

In her memory, they’ve created a scholarship fund for Newark Charter High School students who plan to pursue an education major in college or who are completing the Global Leadership pathway – the career path Madison took at the school.

The scholarship is funded by an annual 5K, this year set for Oct. 8.

And though Madison would have hated the event — “all the attention, all the pins we have, the actual race,” said longtime friend Zahiyah Shubert Saunders – she would’ve participated.

“She wouldn’t want it for her,” Saunders said. “But she would do it, because it would help someone else.”

Got a story tip or idea? Send to Isabel Hughes at ihughes@delawareonline.com. For all things breaking news, follow her on Twitter at @izzihughes_

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