Three friends, killed when car plunged into pond, remembered at vigil in St. Petersburg

Passion Moore, 16, holds a candle and remembers her friends — Ashaunti Butler, 15; Laniya D. Miller, 15; and Dominique Battle, 16 — at a vigil in St. Petersburg's Campbell Park on Saturday. Jay Nolan   |   Special to the Times
Passion Moore, 16, holds a candle and remembers her friends — Ashaunti Butler, 15; Laniya D. Miller, 15; and Dominique Battle, 16 — at a vigil in St. Petersburg's Campbell Park on Saturday.Jay Nolan | Special to the Times
Published April 3 2016
Updated April 3 2016

ST. PETERSBURG — The girls shared memories of their friends as the wind threatened to blow out the candles and the too-fitting song played from the car's speakers.

"It's been a long day without you, my friend, and I'll tell you all about it when I see you again."

The Wiz Khalifa lyrics hung heavily in the air as nearly 150 people gathered Saturday night at Campbell Park to remember the three teen girls who drowned in a stolen Honda Accord that plunged into a weed-choked pond Thursday at Royal Palm North Cemetery.

Kashonda Cummings, 17, was one of a handful of girls who organized the candlelight vigil to pay tribute to their friends. They wore matching T-shirts decorated with their friends' pictures and birthdays: Dominique Battle, 16; Ashaunti Butler, 15; and Laniya Miller, 15.

As more people started to arrive — classmates, friends, youth leaders, members of their churches — Cummings passed out candles and glowsticks and struggled to fight back tears.

"Ashaunti was a loving person," Cummings said. "They were all good friends, good people."

A sense of frustration permeated the group of friends. They were struggling with how to mourn the deaths of their classmates, but they were also grappling with how to explain that these three girls were defined by more than just prior run-ins with the law and the theft of the Honda that Wednesday night.

"The image they have set for the girls is not true," said a friend, Patricia Johnson. "They were actually very caring, loving girls. . . . They actually changed a whole lot and came a long ways."

The last thing Miller told Johnson was to stay in school. She was a good influence, Johnson said, encouraging her to make good decisions.

"We all need to stop doing crazy stuff," Aaliyha Clark said. "Stop stealing cars, just get back in school and do what you need to do."

While the girls organized the memorial, the parents of the teens hovered near the back of the crowd.

Battle's mother, Yashica Clemmons, held her other children's hands, carefully lighting a candle in honor of her daughter.

Nearby, Antwan Windom, Miller's father, stood quietly watching the scene unfold before him. He loved everything about his daughter: her smile, her passion for basketball and movies, her desire to be a lawyer.

But he was still struggling to understand what happened in those final moments early Thursday morning. Searching for answers, he had gone to the pond, driving the same path Pinellas County sheriff's deputies say the girls followed. Standing there Saturday, he still didn't understand how the girls' car ended up in the water.

"She was a good kid, a smart kid," Windom said. "I just want to know what happened."

Contact Caitlin Johnston at cjohnston@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3401. Follow @cljohnst.

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