ROGERS PARK — On a day Tianna Hollinside had been planning to show off her poetry skills during a schoolwide event, her classmates, family and friends instead gathered to honor her memory with an assembly and balloon release.
Hollinside was a 13-year-old seventh-grader at Gale Elementary School in Rogers Park who drowned in Lake Michigan Tuesday after plunging into its deceptively mighty, frigid waters.
Against a backdrop of a photo of Tianna wearing a floral hair crown and the sounds of Beyoncé's "Heaven," students and staff shared hugs and tissue while remembering the young student.
Assistant Principal Melinda Jean-Baptiste said it was Tianna's smile that she holds in her heart — not the smile she flashed when acting silly, but the smile that gave a glimpse into her true self.
"I love the one she would give when she was so proud of herself with something that she had just accomplished," Jean-Baptiste said.
The assistant principal said the last time she saw Tianna's smile was May 12, when one of her teachers handed her a poem written by the student.
"In that piece, I was able to see a vulnerable side of Tianna that she rarely showed in school," she said. "I asked her to read it to me, but she just gave me that smile."
Principal Augustine Emuwa said his "heart hurts" for the tragic loss of one of his students, adding it was a "moment for us that we'll never forget."
He thanked the Rogers Park "family" for showing support for the school and Tianna's relatives. Her family is raising money to cover funeral expenses.
Emuwa credited Tianna with helping to build a connection with Gale that would ultimately lead him to his role as principal.
The principal spoke without prepared remarks, in particular of the color purple, one of Tianna's favorites:
"I looked up purple flowers ... and one flower is a lavender flower," Emuwa said. "The definition said: 'Lavender is a flower with silvery spikes. Their seeds grow in a beautiful shade of purple. Their fragrance emits a beautiful scent that is known to reduce stress.'"
"This week hasn't been an easy week, but when I think about her memory, and who she is, who she was, the fact that she's in a place of less stress — I get happy and I smile because I feel hopeful."
Together as a community, the healing can begin, he said.
Beautiful ceremony from Gale and Pastor Darren Greenfield pic.twitter.com/LZljz5BuqU— Linze Rice (@LinzeRice) May 19, 2017
Tianna's aunt, Dominique Small, pleaded with those in the room to be careful and mindful of surroundings near the lake.
It may be a fun place to hang out, she said, but the fun can come at a high price.
"Please, please don't play by the water," Small said. "There's lot of kids who go to the beach and horseplay in the water. Please don't do it."
Attendees were given cards on which to write individual memories of Tianna. The cards were tied to purple and deep blue balloons and paraded through the school in a small "March of Hope."
The students, along with family, staff and Pastor Darren Greenfield, gathered in a courtyard outside Gale.
"Many of us may believe that when we let these balloons go we're letting Tianna go, but that's not really it," Greenfield said. "We'll never really be able to let Tianna go forever because of how much she's done for us, the big space she's taken up in our hearts. ... We have so much more of Tianna that we're holding on to than letting go."
On the count of three, the crowd swelled with a chorus of "We love you Tianna," and the balloons floated into the sky.
Jean-Baptiste said if there was one takeaway from the tragedy, it would be to "always remember the importance of letting people around you know how much you care and how they've touched your life."
DNAinfo photos/Linze Rice.