MIDLOTHIAN -- Amanda Lynn May knew what she wanted to do with her life from the moment in fifth-grade that she first helped special-needs children in physical education class, her mother, Sherry May, said.
When they were out together and saw a child with a disability, Sherry May said she might feel sorry for the child. But little Amanda would go over and "hug them and talk to them," her mother said.
Later as a special-education teacher at Danny Jones Middle School in Mansfield, Ms. May saw not the disability but the possibility in "her kids."
Ms. May, 28, of Midlothian, was killed Thursday when her Toyota Corolla was struck by a train at a crossing in the 4500 block of Britton Road in far southeast Mansfield, police said. Her funeral was Sunday.
Known for her love of jokes, Dr Pepper and Peeps candies, family and friends said, she had bright red hair often held back by a pair of sunglasses perched on her head.
Ms. May was born March 22, 1981, in Temple to Jim and Sherry May and spent her childhood in Sulphur Springs and Midlothian. When she was about 5, she and her mother played Laverne & Shirley. Ms. May would dress up like a waitress, her mother said, wearing "precious pink pastel shoes" and a little pleated skirt.
Her parents saw an independent child who wasn't much of a snuggler except when she wanted to be.
"I tell everybody she wore a suit of armor but with a heart of gold in it," Sherry May said.
After graduating from Sulphur Springs High School, she attended Tyler Junior College and graduated from Texas A&M University at Commerce with a degree in elementary education and a specialization in special education.
David Koegl, now a special-education teacher in Allen, worked with Ms. May in Mansfield during the 2008-09 school year.
"She had this real bright red hair and she had the personality that went along with it," he said. "Anytime she was around, you would know it. When she laughed, everybody would laugh around her."
A special-education teacher at Jones Middle School since 2005, Ms. May first taught the Functional Academic Life Skills Program for two years before moving into a program teaching autistic students.
Sometimes the students could be in a great mood, but other times something would set them off, Koegl said.
"She always could maintain her calm and coolness," he said. "That would help to bring the situation back down and get kids back to where they needed to be."
Principal Travis Moore called her "an enthusiastic and vibrant young teacher who really enjoyed life. She was also a compassionate and dedicated professional."
Claudia Rice, whose son Connor, 14, was in Ms. May's class for two years, said her death will be a major adjustment for the students, who are sometimes sensitive to change. The relationships autistic students form are often tenuous, Rice said.
Rice said she had been on the verge of sending Ms. May an e-mail thanking her for recommending a Christian heavy metal radio station that she believed Connor would appreciate, Rice said.
"It's a little thing," she said. "But when you're a special-education teacher, it's the little things that can actually impact a student's and a parent's life greatly."
In addition to Ms. May's parents, survivors include a sister, Cassie Booher of Oklahoma.
DARREN BARBEE, 817-390-7126