SEYMOUR--A sea of lights and waves of grief hit the Seymour High School track on Wednesday night as hundreds gathered to mourn the loss of Nina Poeta with a "Walk of Light Vigil."
They walked laps in darkness and silence, holding candles and thinking about the 17-year-old who passed away from brain cancer last week.
"I couldn't believe it when I heard the news, so it was upsetting," said Hope Lanzieri, a neighbor.
Doctors diagnosed Poeta less than a year ago after she complained of headaches. In the months following, volunteers hosted numerous fundraisers to help pay for treatment.
"We supported her all the way and a lot of people support her. A lot of people came out. She's got a lot of love and support," said Tina Cortello, a community member who attended the walk.
Seymour called that spirit, "Nina Strong." Now many are saying it's "Nina Strong Forever."
"Not even realizing how much someone can mean to you is like, amazing. Like, she impacted the whole world. She is an inspiration, like, my motivation. She'll be with me forever, that's how you got to think about it," said Grace Mitchell, Poeta's friend since sixth grade.
Poeta led her cheerleading team to win state championships this year and was especially close with her teammates. "She was just the best flyer on our team. Had the most perfect jumps," said Poeta's friend and teammate Gina Greene.
"I've known Nina since like preschool and we've been best friends since then, so I mean it's hard," said Samantha Fenton, another teammate.
Fourth-graders Lilleyen Young and Ari-Anna Smith said Poeta was an inspiration to their pee-wee cheerleading squad. "She was amazing. She was amazing. Just cheering everybody on. She was really talented," they said.
The vigil last about an hour and a half, ending with the release of a luminary in Poeta's honor. As it floated away, many said this won't be the final time they'll gather in her memory. "Not just tonight, I'm sure they'll be more for her, a lot more," said Lanzieri.
The public is invited to wear pink and attend a church service for Poeta on Thursday at Holy Rosary Church from 3 p.m. to 8 p.m. Her funeral will be on Friday.
In lieu of flowers, Poeta's family asks that donations be made to:
- The Nina Poeta Memorial Scholarship Fund c/o Wells Fargo Bank, 11 Klarides Village, Seymour, CT 06483
- The Cure Starts Now (for DIPG Research), 10280 Chester Rd., Cincinnati, OH 45215
- Make-a-Wish Foundation, 126 Monroe Tpke., Trumbull, CT 06611.