TAMPA — Tutoring wasn't part of her job, but Amanda Pierce did it anyway. Monday through Friday afternoons, the Plant High senior worked at an after-school program at St. John's Episcopal Parish Day School.
Officials there said she listened to the fifth- through eighth-graders, counseling them and making them feel loved.
"She was genuinely interested in their well-being, more than I've seen of someone that age," said Daniel Farley, who is in charge of the program.
Amanda's death this past weekend after a car crash has devastated those students, along with her Plant High classmates and adults who knew her. They are grieving the loss of an 18-year-old with much promise.
In addition to working at St. John's, Amanda spent time with Best Buddies, a nonprofit that pairs students with special-needs children to form friendships.
Caroline Medina, the group's adviser at Plant and a special-needs teacher, said Amanda volunteered with the group for three years and went beyond expectations. The group meets twice a month on weekends for activities such as bowling, but Amanda also spent time on her own with her buddies.
This year, she took her partner, Kaitlyn, shopping, and Kaitlyn spent the night at Amanda's house.
"You do find those few people who really have it in their heart," Medina said. "She definitely was."
She said Kaitlyn is distraught over the loss. When school begins on Monday after this week's spring break, grief counselors will be on hand for the students.
"Some of the kids don't understand death," Medina said. "They don't understand that they're not going to see them again."
Amanda died Saturday from injuries she suffered in a car accident Friday night in Jefferson County. She and fellow Plant High senior Taylor Lazzara, 18, were headed to Tallahassee to see Amanda's sister, Jessica, who is a 19-year-old student at Florida State University.
Just before 10 p.m., Amanda came upon a scene where traffic was stopped on Interstate 10 because of two prior car crashes. To avoid the stopped cars, Amanda swerved her 2001 Acura to the right, traveled onto the shoulder and hit a tree, according to the Florida Highway Patrol.
Both girls were wearing seat belts. Taylor was injured but released from the hospital. Amanda suffered a traumatic head injury and died the next day, her stepmother, Tamra Pierce, said.
Amanda had planned to visit with her sister during spring break and look at housing options for next fall, when she would become a student at Tallahassee Community College. She hoped to later enroll at FSU and planned to become a special education teacher.
"She had such a beautiful heart," Pierce said.
Friends gathered for an impromptu memorial service on Davis Islands on Saturday night. The teenagers grieved together and released balloons. Katelin Collier, a 17-year-old Plant senior, said Amanda was a role model.
"She taught us a lesson to care for everyone around us and to make every day special," she said.
Farley, the St. John's program coordinator, said Amanda's personality shone.
"She made everyone feel important, that they were wanted," he said.
Times researcher Carolyn Edds and Times staff writer Meredith Rutland contributed to this report. Erin Sullivan can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 869-6229.