With the sky darkening over Chocachatti Elementary School on Friday, dozens of candles flickered to life outside the school's front entrance. Somber piano notes filled the night air. Kids cracked glow sticks. Friends clutched flowers and balloons. A few loved ones donned specially made T-shirts:
"In loving memory of Luz's angels," the shirts read. "Always in our hearts."
The angels are Susana "Susie" Castrillon, 8, and her brother, Sebastian Castrillon-Jimenez, 7. Both are the children of Luz Jimenez.
Last week, their father, Daniel Castrillon-Oreggo, fatally shot them at his home in the Trillium development. He then turned the gun on himself.
The tragedy reverberated throughout the Tampa Bay area. But nowhere was it felt more strongly than at the children's school — a close-knit magnet elementary known for its strong academics and parent involvement.
More than 200 gathered at the school Friday night in memory of Susie and Sebastian, tears flowing freely, many struggling to understand how such a tragedy could happen.
They remembered Sebastian's goofy faces and his ability to make people laugh. They remembered Susie's kindness and her friendship.
"Whenever I got sad, she would help me and make me happy," said Sianna Ballistrea, a 9-year-old in fourth grade. "She was a good friend."
Torrie Hattaway, a sixth-grader at Fox Chapel Middle School, was on Susie's cheer team at the YMCA in Spring Hill.
"She was really fun and cheerful and happy," said Torrie, 11.
Torrie's grandmother, Lucy Daley, said Susie was a fast learner and that she was one of the youngest — if not the youngest — on the team. She delighted in taking on new challenges — backbends and backflips.
"She was always happy and excited, smiling and hugging everybody," Daley said.
Sebastian was involved in karate there, Daley said.
Parents remembered him as a sweet boy who liked to make people laugh. He loved making crazy faces, sticking out his tongue and crossing his eyes.
Kristel Johnson, who has two children at Chocachatti, was close to the family, whom she called "wonderful." She, too, remembered the smiling. The hugging. The love.
She said even little outings were fun with them.
"The kids always had a blast doing anything," she said. "It could be just little simple things — getting ice cream. It was a big event for them."
The formal speeches on Friday night were short. The principal thanked everyone for coming and commended staff and teachers for staying strong, a sentiment many parents reiterated.
The school's assistant principal, Cari O'Rourke, thanked the crowd for the support.
"These children were very loved," she said. "These children were loved deeply by their families, by their friends and by their teachers."
The children's mother, Luz Jimenez, did not attend the ceremony but sent her thanks through the event's organizer.
Contact Danny Valentine at [email protected] or (352) 848-1432. On Twitter: @HernandoTimes.