‘A good friend to anybody’: Sarah Riddle remembered for her compassion, dedication

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When Sarah Riddle’s mother, Shelley, found a stray cat on her property, her daughter insisted that they keep it. The family already had two dogs, but Riddle had asked to have a cat, their favorite animal.

She said, ‘It’s no coincidence, Mom. I’ve told you over and over that we need a cat. Shelley said. “Buttercup is 2 years old now.”

Riddle, a senior who was studying neuroscience and biology at Syracuse University, died on March 27th. Instead of flowers, Riddle’s family asked for donations to the local animal shelter on their behalf.

Riddle’s friendliness went beyond animals and encompassed everyone around them, friends and family said. Loved ones remember Riddle for her unmatched compassion, sense of humor, dedication to her area of ​​expertise, and desire to make a difference.


At SU, Riddle has been involved in several extracurricular activities – including the SU Chemistry Brotherhood, a job in a campus research lab, and Campus Cursive, an organization that writes letters to empower people facing challenges.

When senior Izzabelle Mercier was recruited for Alpha Chi Sigma, the chemistry brotherhood, Riddle was the first person who made the effort to speak to her.

“It’s just who Sarah was. She always tried to make everyone feel included, ”said Mercier, a psychology student. “Sarah was the one trying to make sure everyone felt happy.”

Molly Gross, a junior major in public health, joined Campus Cursive in her freshman year and remembers Riddle’s welcoming presence.

The two ran for the club’s board of directors at the same time, and Riddle supported Gross throughout the process. Riddle had been the club’s treasurer for the past two years, choosing the cards on which they had written their letters.

Riddle’s friendliness never seemed compelled, her friends said.

“I don’t even know how to put it into words. You only felt warm when you were around, ”said Mercier. “She always smiled and laughed with you, and her laugh was incredible and contagious, so you can’t help but laugh yourself.”

Sarah Riddle (second from left) with some friends at SU. Riddle was involved in several after-school activities on campus. Courtesy Ashley Downs

Stephen Ajayi, a fifth year PhD student studying biology, recalls Riddle’s laughter and sense of humor. Riddle and Ajayi worked together in the Biology and Neuroscience Laboratory, where Ajayi was Riddle’s mentor.

Most students who work in the laboratory do this because they are on a pre-medical course or are interested in applying for medical school. But Riddle was really interested in researching what was unique, Ajayi said.

“When you have students who are interested in research, they are usually much more invested,” Ayaji said. “Sarah was very invested.”

Riddle recently received an award for academic and research achievement, Shelley said. She also received a research grant from the Syracuse Office of Undergraduate Research and Creative Engagement.

Ajayi also remembers Riddle’s honesty. She wasn’t afraid to tell people how she felt.

“Everyone needs someone like this,” he said.

In the lab, whoever arrives first chooses the music, Ajayi said. He liked a lot of the songs Riddle was playing and added them to his own playlists. One of her favorite bands was Cage the Elephant, said Ajayi.

Ashley Downs, a public health graduate student, attended a Twenty One Pilots concert in Philadelphia with Riddle prior to the pandemic. Downs, who was also Riddle’s “Big” at Alpha Chi Sigma, didn’t know how long the ride would take. Riddle had packed snacks and was playing the band’s new album.

“Sarah knew how to do the long car trips,” Downs said.

Riddle and her boyfriend once flew across the country from their hometown of Ona, West Virginia, to Seattle to visit a cat-themed cafe where diners could play with cats. She didn’t even have coffee – she just looked after the cats, said Riddle’s brother Jacob.

She also loved to bake. Riddle brought cakes, cupcakes, and cookies to members of their fraternity. The members’ favorite was raspberry and lemon biscuits.

For a Brotherhood Halloween party, Riddle decorated a cake with marshmallows and cobwebs. She loved Halloween, said Shelley.

Riddle and her mother often made home baking and even took a four-week cake decorating course. Riddle also taught himself to crochet and loved making crafts for people.

“The stuff she did was just amazing,” Shelley said.


Sarah Riddle loved crocheting, making crochet items for friends and family, and donating some to charities. Courtesy Ashley Downs

For Christmas, Riddle made all members of her “family” in the Brotherhood into a crocheted plush toy, Downs said. She made Downs a bee.

“My apartment only has a few different things from her, which is nice,” Downs said.

She also made 200 knitted hats and donated them to Lily’s Place, a nonprofit that provides medical care to infants with newborn abstinence syndrome, Shelley said.

Whenever she was home, Riddle and Jacob enjoyed watching movies together, especially Disney movies.


Sarah Riddle with her brother Jacob. The two enjoyed watching movies and going out to eat. Courtesy Shelley Riddle

Ella Boggs, who was Riddle’s friend through middle and high school, said they used to go to Qdoba together after Riddle finished band training and Boggs finished the orchestra. Riddle was involved in the marching band from middle school through graduation.

Riddle was supposed to be Boggs’ bridesmaid until her wedding ceremony was canceled during the pandemic.

Riddle never let anything stand in the way, said Boggs and Shelley.

“Once she had a goal, once she came up with something, she made sure she’d see through it,” Shelley said.


Family and friends said Sarah Riddle had an infectious and welcoming personality. Courtesy Shelley Riddle

Ajayi said that Riddle applied to graduate schools and was looking for programs that would allow her to explore different options. She had not yet decided what to research.

But Boggs knew that somehow Riddle wanted to make a difference in the world. Boggs always said if anyone could find the cure for cancer, it would be Riddle.

“She would bend over to help you through anything you needed,” Shelley said. “I’m the one who holds things and she would make me talk.”

Riddle’s friends and family all described her infectious and warm personality. She always tried to uplift the people around her, said Boggs.

“She was just a happy person and when you were around you wanted to be happy. You couldn’t be happy, “said Boggs. “We all have to work a little harder to make sure this world is never left.”

Contact Sarah: scalessa@syr.edu | @sarahalessan