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The impact of Emma Redlinger

Through friends, scholarships and organ donations, the Vinton teen's legacy lives on

A photo collage of Emma Redlinger (foreground, bottom) and a friend can be seen on the right as Aimee Redlinger talks about her daughter Emma at her Vinton apartment on Thursday, April 23, 2015. Emma died on Feb. 28 from an accidental shooting. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
A photo collage of Emma Redlinger (foreground, bottom) and a friend can be seen on the right as Aimee Redlinger talks about her daughter Emma at her Vinton apartment on Thursday, April 23, 2015. Emma died on Feb. 28 from an accidental shooting. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
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VINTON — Emma Redlinger kept a bucket list.

Stargaze on a roof. Lie in a field of daisies. Go to an outdoor concert. Participate in a Color Run. Adopt a child.

The hopes and dreams of a 14-year-old girl. She cataloged them on her laptop, and they became an unexpected discovery for her parents after her death.

“Emma is everybody’s daughter,” said her mom, Aimee Redlinger. “It’s every parent’s worst nightmare. It could have been anybody’s daughter or son.

“I want people to remember Emma the person, not the little girl who died in a shooting accident.”

Police said another teenager was handling a .220-caliber rifle inside a home on West Fourth Street in Vinton. The gun discharged, hitting Emma in the head. She died four days later, on Feb. 28, at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics.

An investigation continues. Vinton Police Chief Ted Paxton said in late April charges likely will be filed in the case, though he did not say what those would be.

Emma, a freshman at Vinton-Shellsburg High School, left behind her mother and mother’s partner, Luke Erickson; her father, Steven Redlinger; siblings Taylor, Haelea and Luke Daniel; and her cousin, Kaylee Graves, 16, who lives with the family and shared Emma’s bedroom.

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She also left a large and close-knit extended family, most of whom live in or near Vinton and Cedar Rapids.

Family camping trips were important to her, her mother recalled. She was passionate about music and looked forward to singing around a fire on those trips.

She often fell asleep at night talking on the phone with one of her cousins.

She loved mocha frappucinos from McDonald’s and shopping for new clothes. She often wore mismatched socks — Erickson described her as “whimsical.”

She adored animals, frequently bringing home strays her mother had to tell her they couldn’t keep. Singer Sarah McLachlan’s commercials for the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals made her cry.

Some aspects of school were a struggle — she was dyslexic. But she loved choir and competitive cheerleading. She was on a team at Elite Cheer in Cedar Rapids and attended the YMCA’s Camp Wapsie each summer, where she had friends she met up with each year. At camp, she loved horseback riding, fishing and swimming. She thrived outdoors.

Camp counselor Carolyn Stone said she always thought Emma would become a counselor herself some day.

“She made such an impact on a lot of Wapsie staff,” Stone said. “She was teeny-tiny, but she had such a big personality. She just loved camp and was so full of life in my cabin.”

After Emma died, a group of her friends gathered in her living room, her mother said. Eating ice cream, they shared stories and memories.

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Many continue to drop by after school, spending time with the other kids in the house or just talking with her mother. They bring her comfort, Aimee Redlinger said, and help keep Emma’s spirit alive.

One of her best friends, Shelby Cox, 14, said Emma wouldn’t let people stay upset. She would tell jokes and cajole them until they smiled.

“She was the light of the room. She always made everyone laugh, even if they were angry,” Cox noted. “She always took care of me.”

Her friends aren’t the only ones who have felt Emma’s impact. Aimee recently got a letter from the Iowa Donor Network, describing those who had received her organs.

A 17-year-old girl was given her heart, a 10-year-old boy her liver. Her pancreas went to a 31-year-old woman, her lungs to a 65-year old woman, her right kidney to a 42-year-old man.

Her left kidney went to a 39-year-old man with four children.

“I’m thrilled that a 17-year-old has her heart. Emma would have loved that,” Redlinger said.

She said knowing others live through Emma’s donation is a blessing.

“It’s quite a gift,” she said.

She and Erickson said they have been comforted by strangers from around the country who came across Emma’s story and contacted them. A Go Fund Me page, started by her aunt, Jennifer Redlinger, while Emma was still fighting for life, raised more than $14,000 from 289 people.

Aimee said that money will go toward Emma’s medical bills. Whatever is left will be used to help Camp Wapsie.

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Redlinger’s graduating class also is donating a camp scholarship in Emma’s name this year.

The Ahrenstein Family Charitable Fund of Vinton also will present a college scholarship in Emma’s name to a senior of the 2015 graduating class.

“She and I always talked about how, if we won the lottery, we would help the camp,” Aimee Redlinger said.

She said even as she grieves, she’s comforted by ways she has seen Emma’s legacy continue.

“The amount of people Emma has touched astounds me,” she said. “It definitely helps with the healing process to know your child made such an impact.”

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We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.