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Friends, family mourn Tampa drowning victim, 11

Arnita Mills, center, whose daughter Britney, 11, drowned at a city pool July 8, is comforted at a vigil Thursday in east Tampa.

DANIEL WALLACE | Times

Arnita Mills, center, whose daughter Britney, 11, drowned at a city pool July 8, is comforted at a vigil Thursday in east Tampa.

TAMPA — Under a wide tree and with white candles in hand, family and friends held a vigil for an 11-year-old girl who drowned last week in a city pool.

They prayed and put their hands around the girl's mother, Arnita Mills. She hugged a Hello Kitty quilt with one hand and gripped a friend with the other.

She sobbed the hardest.

Britney Mills died July 8 after one of three lifeguards on duty couldn't revive her at Cyrus Greene Park's pool. She swam with about 40 kids as part of a summer group with the Jackson Heights Community Center. An autopsy is pending.

On Thursday, a line of mourners walked from Jackson Heights NFL Youth Education Town Center over to where Britney's family lives, including her siblings, Gabriel, 15, and Prisca, 14.

Her mother was overcome with grief and stopped to heave. She stopped a couple times to cry. But she never let go of her girl's quilt.

At the family's front door, Mills was seated with a cluster of candles at her feet. A pastor preached as neighbors came out.

In the crowd was Chenault Starks, 15, who passed her summer days with Britney.

They were like sisters.

The girls loved to shop. Chenault said Britney loved any kind of sneakers. They spent most days step dancing and swimming.

"You know, we just talked and then we'd get in the pool and do laps together," shet said. "And then it'd be time to eat tacos again."

Britney made tacos heavy with hot sauce. Some days she treated Chenault to macaroni and cheese as they read Harry Potter books.

Britney wanted to go to Florida State University. She wanted to be a doctor.

She's missed, but not forgotten.

It was written on the back of Chenault's black T-shirt: "Gone 2 soon."

A funeral is scheduled for 1 p.m. Saturday at Northside Missionary Baptist Church, 5706 N 40th St., Tampa.

Ileana Morales can be reached at imorales@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3403.

Friends, family mourn Tampa drowning victim, 11 07/16/09 [Last modified: Thursday, July 16, 2009 11:52pm]
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