TAMPA — Before they sat down to pray, friends of a Plant High senior killed in a fiery car wreck over the weekend stopped to write her family their condolences.
Tears smudged ink on some of the notes. The tears continued for many of the 100 people who gathered Sunday night at a prayer service for Allyson Marie "Ally'' Faulk at Palma Ceia Presbyterian Church, across the street from the school.
Allyson, 17, died Friday night when the Ford SUV she was driving careened off Interstate 75 near Gainesville and burst into flames. She and three friends who survived the accident were on their way to the homecoming game at Florida State University.
The three surviving friends attended the service even though they had just been released from the hospital. Lizzy Mischo, 18, Karlyn McKell and Kristen Hurst, both 17, regularly attend youth group meetings at the church, sometimes bringing Allyson along.
They sat Sunday in the front row of the church's fellowship hall, crying with their arms around each other as music played and members of the youth group read passages from the Bible. Kristen arrived in a wheelchair.
"We're not built to grieve forever," said Pastor Geoff Kohler. "We were made for life."
Then he stepped before the survivors and said: "I need for the three of you to know how glad we are to have you here."
They cried even harder.
News of the accident spread quickly among Plant students through text messages and cell phone calls.
Alexis Monteleone, 18, got a call on her cell phone. She played volleyball with Allyson, and they both were involved in the Zeta service club. Eventually, she said, someone called Allyson's parents to confirm that Ally had died.
"I still can't believe that she's gone," Monteleone said. "I was in complete shock and I still am. I never thought that would happen to somebody I know like her."
Monteleone and 17-year-old Emily Jones called their friend an angel. She was never without a smile and liked to do just about anything.
"And it's not just because she's gone now," Monteleone said. "She really was the sweetest person ever."
The crash and its cause remain under investigation.
Chandra Broadwater can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 661-2454.