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Relatives remember drowned Riverview girl as joyful, sweet

RUSKIN — There were many words Friday for how friends and family felt about the loss of 11-year-old Jenny Caballero, who drowned after slipping out of her middle school gymnasium this week.

Angry. Devastated. Heartbroken.

But to describe her, they needed only one: Alegre. Happy.

"That little girl loved to play," cousin Eric Pesina, 38, said in Spanish. "She was always smiling, very full of joy."

Jenny Caballero, who had Down syndrome, died Monday afternoon in a retention pond at Rodgers Middle School in Riverview after she wandered out of her physical education class, past the six adults assigned to watch her class of about 20 students.

On Friday, friends and family gathered for her viewing at the Cremation and Burial Society in Ruskin, 308 E College Ave.

Several donned white T-shirts emblazoned with Jenny's smiling face.

A funeral is scheduled to take place at the same location today at 10 a.m.

Candelaria Brown, 56, who attends church with the family, recalled the first time she met the child.

"She ran to me and took my hand," Brown said in Spanish. "That's how she was: so sweet, so affectionate."

Jenny was not able to speak, family members said. But she communicated in different ways.

She loved to hold hands and would pull her mother close when she felt shy around strangers. Though she couldn't dance, Jenny loved music of any kind, Pesina said.

Neighbors Lorraine and Heather Boffo, who watched the girl walk to her school bus stop with her mother every morning, questioned how Jenny, who wore leg braces and walked with a limp, was able to escape her class unnoticed and climb a 4-foot-tall chain-link fence that separated the school from the pond.

"I just don't understand it," Lorraine Boffo said. "How can you lose a child like that?"

The Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office has been conducting an investigation to figure that out.

The Hillsborough County School District is awaiting the investigation's outcome before it launches its own inquiry.

At a Tuesday afternoon School Board meeting, superintendent MaryEllen Elia talked of a promise she made to Jenny's parents:

"I told them that we would do everything we can to find out exactly what happened and that we would do everything we can to make sure this never happens again," she said.

Jenny Caballero is survived by her mother, father and two teenage sisters, relatives said. Saturday's funeral service is limited to friends and family, officials said.

Marissa Lang can be reached at mlang@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3386 or on Twitter @Marissa_Jae.

Relatives remember drowned Riverview girl as joyful, sweet 10/26/12 [Last modified: Friday, October 26, 2012 11:50pm]
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