ST. PETERSBURG — The crowd was subdued, a shared silence among them punctuated with occasional whimpers.
More than 100 people filled the pews in the sanctuary of Park Street Baptist Church. Some clenched tissues and dabbed at their eyes as they listened to a pastor speak of a life cut short.
They were there to honor Alexia Douglas, lauded as a smart, hard-working Northeast High School student and a devoted and loving daughter, who was killed April 19 in a car crash in St. Petersburg. She was 16.
Alexia's life was well-lived, the Rev. Dan Jeffers told the crowd, one that bettered the lives of others.
Gazing out from a raised lectern on a stage in front of a large wooden cross, the pastor posed a question:
"If you could describe Alexia in one word, what would it be?"
The people, many of them teenagers, shouted answers across the room.
Happy. Wonderful. Beautiful. Sweet. Smart.
But the words created only a bare sketch of the girl they all knew.
She was a quiet but diligent student who worked to master each of her honors-level classes and ranked among the top 1 percent of her sophomore class.
She was a talented artist. Two of her oil paintings, a set of red tulips and a pointillist image of a hippopotamus, stood among a collection of flowers at the front of the room. At the center of the display was a framed portrait of the girl with chestnut hair and a coy smile, whose bright green eyes seemed to gaze at those who had come to honor her.
She was a loving sister to Dimitri Douglas, a year her elder, who sat in the front row of Thursday's service next to their mother, Barbara Nicholl. They were flanked by extended family and friends, who embraced them.
Christina Shiver, Alexia's best friend, was there, too, the pastor said. Some have said they were more than friends. They were like sisters with a mutual love of the things teenagers enjoy — music, video games, concerts, long talks. They were always together, right until the end.
Shiver, also 16, suffered minor injuries in the crash. She was driving and Alexia was in the passenger seat of a Ford Escape, headed west on 40th Avenue NE toward the light of a setting sun. Just before the bridge over Placido Bayou, Shiver became distracted, veered off the road, and slammed into a guardrail. Alexia was killed instantly. The crash remains under investigation.
No one knows why tragedies happen when they do, Jeffers told the congregation.
"I can answer the how questions," Jeffers said. "But the why, those are the ones you struggle with. … The why of Alexia's death is a mystery that only God can answer."
But even amid a tragedy, there are answers we can know, he said, and comforts we can find.
One is that Alexia is in heaven, a place of music, the pastor said, which was one of the things she loved. Another is that her death helped save lives — her family donated her organs, he said. Her heart was given as a transplant.
Foremost was the comfort that everyone who knew her — her friends, her teachers, her family — made her the person she was, the person they all loved.
"You all played a role in that," the pastor said.
A song of mourning played over a photo montage projected on two overhead screens, showing snapshots of Alexia.
There were pictures of her as an infant, lying in a baby carrier. There were pictures of her and Dimitri, holding Easter baskets, blowing out birthday candles, sitting side-by-side on a swing set. There were cellphone self-portraits she had taken, those green eyes gazing again at the crowd as she smiled.
Dan Sullivan can be reached at (727) 893-8321 or firstname.lastname@example.org.