BALTIMORE (WJZ) — Seven months after her murder, Laura Wallen was honored as Wilde Lake High School’s Teacher of the Year.
Wallen taught social studies at the school in Howard County, where her students said the honor was richly deserved. Junior Devin Shields described her as “one of a kind.”
“Thank you for putting her in our world,” he said.
WJZ Investigator Mike Hellgren spoke to Wallen’s parents before the emotional ceremony, which was closed to media.
“She is absolutely here today,” her father, Mark Wallen, said. “She was so much more than just a teacher. One of the kids thought of her as a second mother. It’s an honor to know that in her short life, she accomplished so much and affected so many people. It’s just so amazing that she continues to live on…after her death.”
Pictures provided by Howard County Public Schools show the Wallens holding a certificate that reads “Senior Class Teacher of the Year” and smiling during the award presentation.
Wallen’s mother, Gwen Wallen, told Hellgren her daughter being posthumously named Teacher of the Year is “an amazing honor. As soon as we found out, I said those students were not to be denied. This is just one of those parts of Laura that’s just really nice to celebrate.”
Wallen was four months pregnant last September when police say her boyfriend Tyler Tessier lured her to a field in Montgomery County and shot her, burying her in a shallow grave.
She had just finished getting her classroom ready for the new school year but failed to show up for the first day of classes, triggering a massive search.
The case gained national attention when Tessier held Gwen Wallen’s hand at a press conference and pleaded for Laura Wallen’s safe return. WJZ was first to report the discovery of Wallen’s Ford Escape near The Mall in Columbia and the Wilde Lake High campus.
Laura Wallen’s principal, Rick Wilson, reflected on her life and legacy.
“Some students are still mourning, quite honestly,” he said. “She just had that level of impact on them. They still miss her daily…I think they’ve come to accept over the past few months what has happened, and they still want to honor her legacy.”
“Her legacy continues, and that’s so powerful…I’m so proud of our students. They’re embodying her caring spirit and carrying that forward. What more can you ask for as an educator,” Wilson added.
The principal revealed seniors at the high school are planning a tribute to Laura Wallen at their upcoming graduation.
“She demonstrated through actions that she cared about each and every one of them on such a personal level, and that’s something they will never forget,” Wilson said.
“She’s the embodiment of the caring, touching, kind soul of a teacher who we all want,” Wilson said.
There are painful days for her family ahead. Tessier’s trial starts in September, coinciding with the one-year anniversary of her murder.
Laura Wallen’s mother wanted to focus on “the happy things” on Tuesday.
“The ten or eleven years she was a teacher are some of the most meaningful to her,” Gwen Wallen said. “Because of that, it feels good to celebrate.”