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UF freshman from Tampa found dead by friends in Madeira Beach condo

TAMPA — Molly Ammon got great grades, went on mission trips and baked for classmates' birthdays. Friends remember her hearty laugh. Her mother can hardly recall fighting with her 19-year-old daughter.

Still, Angie Ammon worried. She knew her underage daughter drank alcohol at parties.

The mother tried talking to Molly. She made sure to record a recent episode of Law and Order: Special Victims Unit that depicted someone's death by alcohol poisoning. Molly and her friends watched it.

Molly Ammon was found dead Sunday morning after a night drinking with friends at a Madeira Beach condominium, where the University of Florida freshman was spending a spring break weekend.

Her parents say the group had been drinking alcohol, though authorities have not yet ruled on a cause of death.

"I think society has taught kids so well to not drink and drive," Angie Ammon said Monday night, huddled in a blanket on a couch in her Beach Park home. "But they don't realize that it can be dangerous to drink and stay at home."

Friends and family — even the mayor of Tampa, Pam Iorio, who lived near the family for years — spoke highly of a young woman who made everyone feel special.

About 200 people have dropped by the family's home and dozens more have called.

"It's such an awful tragedy that it's hard for everyone to even absorb it," Iorio said. "Molly was a beautiful young woman, full of life. This is absolutely devastating."

One of Molly's friends from Plant High School, Meredith Kelley, bought a plane ticket from Colorado as soon as she heard the news Sunday.

"Molly showed us all how to laugh at ourselves," Meredith said. "She had such energy. Everyone wanted to be near her."

Molly loved baking and would regularly whip up brownies or cookies. She would drop whatever she was doing if Meredith needed a ride to work, and she kept in touch with longtime friends, even after they moved.

She planned to wear a long, white satin dress for the upcoming Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla's annual King's Debutante Ball. "We just picked it out," Angie Ammon said. "It was beautiful."

Molly's outgoing personality followed her to Gainesville.

She chose UF, though she came from a family of Florida State University graduates, and she joined the Tri Delta sorority.

Grief counselors are on hand to speak to the sorority sisters, and the national Tri Delta Fraternity issued a statement of condolence.

Dozens of messages poured onto Molly's Facebook wall:

Molly Ammon, your laugh was unforgettable and you will never be forgotten. I love you and miss you already.

— Shelby Frantz

Molly Ammon. You are the most amazing, beautiful, and genuine person I know. You have so many people that truly love you and care for you and that is just a testimony to what an exceptional woman you are.

— Tori Kreher

And from her older sister, Katie Ammon, 21:

Sisters by chance, friends by choice. Molly you were, ARE, and WILL ALWAYS BE not only the best sister but the best friend i have ever had. i love you more than words can say molly and i'm going to love you and miss you everyday for the rest of my life.

Across UF's campus, the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity repainted the base of its emblematic lion statue. It reads, "In loving memory of Molly Ammon." Another fraternity hung a banner in her honor.

Though the Ammons won't be certain of the cause of their daughter's death until a toxicology report is done, Angie Ammon wants to spread the message that alcohol can be dangerous.

"Everyone's life will never be the same without her," she said.

When it comes to alcohol, knowing when to stop drinking is not an exact science. That's what can make excessive drinking so dangerous, explained Lee Dorpfeld, a licensed mental health counselor and substance abuse adviser at the University of South Florida.

How much alcohol a person can tolerate hinges on traits such as height, weight and health conditions. Other factors include the number of drinks and how quickly they are consumed.

Even being stressed out and overly tired can affect the metabolism of alcohol, he said.

Angie Ammon said her daughter's friend who was with Molly that night blames herself, but the mother doesn't. Though Angie Ammon and her husband, Robert Ammon, are overwhelmed with grief, they say they feel no anger.

Friends and family have surrounded them and provide a distraction from the pain.

The funeral will be Thursday.

Times news researcher John Martin and staff writer Letitia Stein contributed to this report.

Funeral arrangements

A service for Molly Ammon will be held 10 a.m. Thursday at Christ the King Catholic Church, 821 S Dale Mabry Highway, Tampa.

UF freshman from Tampa found dead by friends in Madeira Beach condo 03/14/11 [Last modified: Monday, March 14, 2011 10:53pm]
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