HARRISON: Dozens of Highlands students gathered for a candlelight vigil Thursday evening to remember Erica Maloney.
A flower-laden cross was placed along Freeport Road in front of Highlands Middle School, a few yards from where the 13-year-old Fawn girl ran in front of a dump truck Wednesday afternoon.
Middle school students said teachers told them Thursday morning Erica died from injuries sustained in the accident.
“I spent most of the morning crying,” said 13-year-old Samantha Krivak.
Krivak, an eighth-grader, too, said she befriended Erica in fifth grade when Erica was a new student.
“I knew her really well,” Krivak said.
“She could never hurt anyone,” said 13-year-old Jasmine Sable. “She was really sweet.”
Krivak and several of Erica’s close friends said they planned Thursday’s tribute during counselling sessions in school. They said they wanted to pay tribute to Erica’s memory and to let her family know they cared.
Two dozen girls gathered shortly after 6 p.m. Thursday, slowly forming a circle around the small white cross. Many brought flowers, stuffed animals and other mementos.
Several greeting cards were passed around and the teens wrote messages to Erica.
After lighting candles, each girl read an excerpt from a poem, “How do you spell friendship?” Each letter in friendship denoted the word’s meaning, with “P” encouraging friends to “pray for each other.”
Eighth-grader Bethany Bogert read a brief eulogy she’d written.
“I sat with Erica in class, and everyday she’d smile at me,” 14-year-old Bogert read.
“It’s just a dream. That’s what you think,” she said. “Then reality sets in.”
Once she’d finished reading, all the girls blew out their candles at once.
But as students continued to arrive, bearing more flowers and cards, candles were re-lit and tears continued to flow. The teenagers hugged each other as their parents watched from afar and a few passersby beeped their horns in consolation.
“She was too young to die,” Bogert said afterward.
Shortly before the impromptu tribute, two young girls who said they didn’t know Erica laid a bouquet of flowers on the grass between Freeport Road and Broadview Boulevard.
Amber Hughes and Morgan Ventorini, both sixth-graders, said they never met Erica, but Hughes said she knew Tyler Dott, a 6-year-old Grandview Elementary School student who died last October. Dott was riding his bike along River Road in Natrona when he veered in front of a truck and was killed.
“It’s a horrible thing to happen to a little girl,” said Morgan’s mother, Pam Ventorini. “It’s hard for kids to deal with it.”
As cars drove by on busy, four-lane Freeport Road, a few teens crossed the street not far from when Erica was hit.
Several did not use the crosswalk at California Avenue.
“Did you see those girls just walk across the street?” one parent asked, shaking her head. “You’d think they’d learn.”