TAMPA — Suddenly, the characters detailed in Tessa Byers' long e-mails and phone calls home to Indiana were real, standing before her grieving parents.
They all converged Monday night at the University of Tampa's chapel, a place the 19-year-old Miss Byers was thrilled to have to worship and sing in, said her mother, Donna Byers.
The students gathered to remember the talented young woman who died in a car crash in Hernando County on Saturday night while on the way to New Orleans for Mardi Gras.
When they found out her parents were in the building, the group invited the Byerses to come and join their fellowship.
"We couldn't get enough of them because it was like being with her," Donna Byers said Wednesday.
Miss Byers was on her way to New Orleans with friends to experience Mardi Gras and take photographs, one of the many artistic talents she exhibited from a young age.
Her mother said she started playing the violin in kindergarten and advanced to the piccolo, flute, guitar, piano and drums.
The instrument of choice, however, was always her voice.
Miss Byers sang in recitals, memorials and even composed music. A small part of a song she wrote for friends she left behind when she returned home from mission trips, Tear-filled Eyes, was recently posted on YouTube.
Shortly after making the jump from Carmel, Ind., to Tampa, Miss Byers joined the Campus Crusade for Christ and sang and played guitar at its meetings.
"The only thing that is getting us through is the faith and hope that she is with her savior," her mother said.
Miss Byers came to UT because she had an interest in criminology and wanted to be able to get to know everyone at her college. In only a few months, she had covered a lot of ground.
She joined a sorority, made friends in the Campus Cru, and ingratiated herself with the theater department by working behind the scenes.
It was from these places that Miss Byers drew her cross section of friends, not counting all the people she met living on campus and attending class.
Donna Byers was not surprised her daughter's memory could draw 50 students to campus during spring break.
"She loved people and loved to make people laugh and she wanted to be on that campus because she desired to know all of them," Donna Byers said.
Funeral services are scheduled for Friday and Saturday in her hometown of Carmel.
A memorial date has not been set for the University of Tampa.