ROGERS PARK — Tianna Hollinside, 13, who died after she spent 45 minutes in icy Lake Michigan, was an "amazing girl" with "amazing spirit," her principal said Wednesday.
Tiana skipped school Tuesday morning. Instead of heading to Gale Math and Science Academy, she and some friends instead went to the lakefront, where she wound up in the water.
By the time paramedics were able to recover her body from the icy waters, she'd been swept under for at least 45 minutes. She later died. Her death was ruled an accident Wednesday.
"This young lady was an amazing spirit, high energy ... really the most beautiful spirit," her principal Augustine Emuwa told DNAinfo. "Academically she was amazing, a really smart kid."
Police first got a call that someone was in the lake at Rogers Beach, 7705 N. Eastlake Terrace, around 9:50 a.m. Tuesday.
Helicopters, divers and other rescue workers amassed a search that fanned across the northernmost portion of the lake before the Evanston border.
Emuwa said at one point in the morning, the school was hit with "a wave of calls that something might not be right." He and another school employee rushed over to the scene.
After she was found around 10:40 a.m., paramedics worked methodically to revive Tianna, even as they rushed her off in "extremely critical condition" to St. Francis Hospital in Evanston still hoping to save her.
But the lake's frigid 57 degree waters can be dangerous even for more experienced swimmers, fire officials said.
"It was a beautiful day," Emuwa said. "She just made a mistake in a really untimely situation that's really unexpected — a shock."
Rescuers searching for Hollinside. [Chicago Fire Department]
Now, Emuwa and other Rogers Park community members and students at Gale are working through the tangled tragedy together.
Under the enormity of the situation, Emuwa said his staff instantly united — a true testament to the "upward trajectory" the neighborhood school is on.
"On the other side of all the really amazing things we've got going on at our school, now we've got to at this point really commit and come together as a family," he said. Her family is also raising money through a GoFundMe campaign.
Wednesday was spent ducking into classrooms to talk, hug, laugh, cry, and overall process the situation with students, who have also comforted staff, Emuwa said.
The loss stings, but it's brought out the best in the caring community, he added.
"I wish she was here, I woke up this morning — I got the girl's face in my mind right now," the principal said. "But I do know that we've been able to really humanize this work that we do, and we've been able to come together."
Emuwa said he had a special connection with Tianna, who he partially credits with helping him become principal at Gale.
He first met her during the Chicago Public Schools work stoppage day in 2016 when he was working at nearby Sullivan High School and was assigned to help cover Gale. Hollinside was a student at Courtenay Elementary School at the time, but assigned to Gale for just that day.
Former Principal Cassandra Washington had heard about Sullivan's work with restorative justice and asked if Emuwa would mind talking with a group of girls struggling with some issues, including Tianna.
The young student stepped up to show leadership during the difficult conversation and Washington took notice.
When the session was over, Emuwa and Washington walked up the stairs together and Washington asked Emuwa if he'd ever have an interest in becoming principal at the school.
"That's what this is taking me back to," he said. "I'm saying to myself, 'Wow, this girl was, to me, an amazing child.' She had her challenges, but at the end of the day, she was a really, really amazing spirit."