fbpx

Mom helps Oxford High School students remember friend and classmate who saved six lives

Justin Shilling, who was killed at the Oxford High School shooting in November 2021 and became an organ and tissue donor

Justin Shilling’s legacy as an organ and tissue donor is helping his mother navigate the depths of her grief. She wanted something for his 1,900 classmates, too.

The Oxford High School senior was one of four students killed in a shooting at the school last fall. He was able to donate both kidneys, one lung, his liver, and his heart valves. Justin saved the lives of six people and helped countless others as a tissue donor.

His organs saved a 29-year-old woman, a 41-year-old woman, a 44-year-old man, and another man who is 75.

Jill Soave and her son, Justin Shilling, in a selfie photoJill Soave is so moved by her son’s legacy – and acutely aware of the trauma and grief felt by his classmates – that she reached out to Gift of Life with a special ask: For every Oxford High School student to have a Gift of Life teddy bear.

“Gift of Life sent us bears as part of the packet for donor families. They were something to hold and touch – something tangible to make us feel a little better,” Jill said. “I wanted those traumatized students to have their own bears, and Justin would have wanted that for them.”

With the help of a grant from the Gift of Life Foundation, nearly 2,000 small bears with Justin’s name printed on a ribbon along with Gift of Life Michigan were delivered to the school in May. Boxes and boxes of bears showed up – enough for every freshman, sophomore, junior and senior, including all online-only students.

“When I learned that Gift of Life would find a way to make it possible, I was extremely humbled – tears of joy,” Jill said. “It was an unbelievable partnership. Those Justin Bears are a reminder that he did something beautiful for others.”

Boxes of teddy bearsThose bears also represent the person Justin was, she said. “He always went out of his way to make others feel included. He gravitated to kids who were bullied or left out. If he was in a room with five kids and one was in the corner, he made a new friend.”

The tiny, soft bears were loved by students who took them home with days left in the most traumatizing school year of their lives.

One mother of an Oxford freshman said the gesture was incredibly moving. “My daughter cried when she received it, cried when she told me about it, and said she would keep it with her always.”

Susan Rink, chief of philanthropy for the Gift of Life Foundation, said the grant for the bears was awarded for three reasons: To remind the community that Justin saved and improved life for so many, to help ease the grief felt by his classmates, and to raise awareness that donation saves lives.

“This project was so meaningful for us,” Susan said. “The staff pulled together to tie blue ribbons to every single bear and package them up before we delivered them by the boxful to the school. We will all remember Justin, his incredible legacy of saving others, and his bears.”

Justin’s 14-year-old brother, Clay, named the project for his classmates “Justin case you need a friend,” saying his friends described the bears as “cute, sentimental and really cool.”

Clay said donating organs and tissue to save others was “on brand” for his brother.

“It fits with who he was – a self-sacrificing man,” he said. “Justin was caring, and he was there when I needed him.”

Watch Jill Soave’s interview on Fox2 Detroit.

Organ Donation

Read more in the Gift of LifeLINES newsletter

Read More Posts
Angel wings mural in downtown Bay City in support of Gift of Life Michigan

Raising the wings of awareness

For years Brad Gohr watched as his mother, Charmaine Neymeiyer, battled Autoimmune Hepatitis, a disease…

Read More
Dorrie Dils is president and CEO of Gift of Life Michigan

AOPO Names 2024-2025 President and Board of Directors

OPO Leaders Elected to Champion Organ Donation Mission Today, the Association of Organ Procurement Organizations…

Read More
Guests enjoyed free Dippin' Dots ice cream at Donate Life Night at the Zoo

Donate Life Night at John Ball Zoo honors those impacted by organ and tissue donation

Registration still open to this free event Gift of Life Michigan’s largest West Michigan event…

Read More
Donor families in the March of Honor at the 2024 Check Your Heart Capitol Rally

Check Your Heart Rally in Lansing focuses on educating the next generation

Hundreds gather in support of organ, eye and tissue donation   More than 400 people from…

Read More
sunset colors and a cross

Can Catholics Donate Organs?

The tenets of the Catholic faith are something many adhere to. But at times, these…

Read More
Group of patients waiting for organ transplants carrying a banner reading "Waiting to Live" along the Capitol sidewalk

Check Your Heart Rally at State Capitol encourages next generation to donate life

Hundreds expected in support of organ, eye and tissue donation on June 12 Hundreds of…

Read More
Scroll to Top