TRINITY — The church lobby was dim and cool and empty, save for a blond woman who waited at the door to shepherd the grieving to where they needed to go. Another woman rushed in from a back room.
"Where are the damp cloths?" she asked. The blond pointed to a pile on a black recliner. The other woman grabbed them and hurried back to where she came from, one of the rooms of grief.
There were three of these rooms at Generations Christian Church on Wednesday morning.
One held the family of Cierra Mamonoff, a 15-year-old Mitchell High School sophomore and varsity cheerleader who had been hit and killed by a car in front of the church.
A second room was for two teenagers who were with Cierra when it happened. The Florida Highway Patrol said they had been walking east across Little Road at Kish Boulevard. The school district would not say why they were out of school. The three were about a mile south of Mitchell High when they tried to cross the busy highway. The other two teens — a boy and a girl — stopped at a median. Cierra kept going, into the path of the car, a Hyundai sedan driven by Stephanie Andrew.
The third room in the church was for her. A 10-year-old boy was in the car with her when they hit Cierra. Neither Andrew nor the boy were injured, according to the Florida Highway Patrol, which continues to investigate. Andrew, 43, has a clean driving record. According to the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, she has never even had a speeding ticket.
"There was nothing the driver could do," said Greg Johnson, lead pastor at Generations. He was on the scene seconds after the crash. It happened about 9:30 a.m., just as Johnson and other church staff members were arriving for work. Johnson said a witness gave Cierra CPR on the road. Johnson and his staffers immediately went to work comforting the teens and the driver and the family members who arrived, bringing them inside, sitting them down, getting them tissues and water and cold cloths and blankets. Holding them.
When Cierra's father got to the scene he punched an SUV, loudly, repeatedly. Cierra's mother had trouble walking, her body quaking as she sobbed. Several people supported her and when she sat down, they all had hands on her, a hand on her shoulder, a hand on her back, a hand smoothing her hair, as if to absorb some of her pain.
Cierra was "outgoing and bubbly," said Brittany Burke, a senior at Mitchell who is also on the cheerleading squad. "She would always be there for me."
Burke said she didn't know why Cierra wasn't at school, which was in session when the accident occurred.
"It's hard to believe," she said.
Johnson, the pastor, held a gathering Wednesday evening for all of the teenagers at Mitchell, their parents and anyone else who wanted to come. He lined up grief counselors from the community, the school district and HPH Hospice. He didn't plan on giving a sermon. It's a time for few words, he said. He wanted the kids to talk with the counselors, to huddle with each other and process what they're going through.
"I don't know why bad things happen to good people," he said. "That's something I will never be able to explain.
"But as a follower of Christ, I know he is with us always."
Johnson said he moved back and forth among the three rooms of grief — the family, the teens, the driver, their lives changed forever.
He said in times like this, there are few things you can say. All you can do is be there.
Times researcher Shirl Kennedy contributed to this story. Erin Sullivan can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 869-6229.