A teenager’s death is like placing a period in the middle of a sentence, teacher Ronnie Simmons told seniors at Vilonia High School on Wednesday morning during a memorial service to honor their classmate, Amanda Allison, who was fatally shot this week in Cleburne County.
"I once heard a minister say that, and I always remembered it," Simmons said, addressing the 200 or so, mostly students, who were in attendance. "He was right."
Held at about 7:30 a.m., students battled freezing temperatures to gather around the school’s flagpole for the event, which was organized by the senior class. Simmons was the only adult to speak. The large student turnout, Simmons remarked, is "a testimony of how much the school loves the Allison family" including Amanda Allison’s father John, a teacher at the school, her mother Janice and sister Courtney, a 11th-grader. The family also stood in the audience.
Speaking for several minutes, Simmons addressed the fragility of life. At times, he told the students, it is hard to "make sense" out of situations.
"A lot of times, we just don’t have answers," he said.
He challenged the students to honor the memory of Amanda Allison by "investing" their lives in things that hold value rather than temporary pleasure. On tombstones there are two dates, he told the students, a birthdate and a date of death. "There’s a dash between them," he said. "What will that dash say about you?"
Simmons concluded by telling the students to love each other and their families and to overlook the faults of their friends and family members. As well, he encouraged the students to support each other and the Allison family during this time of "terrible tragedy."
Several students also spoke. Julia Copeland read a poem. Julie Stanley read a scripture from the Bible. Jordan Lea called for the students to hold hands during a prayer. Brent Burroughs, Cody Goff and Tyler Couch performed a song delivering the words "God’s love breaks through all barriers."
Holding a single white balloon, Courtney Allison was the only family member to speak. Choking back tears, she said, "Amanda would want all of us to be strong."
Speakers made mention on several occasions that Wednesday was also Amanda Allison’s 18th birthday. At the conclusion, 18 red balloons were released into the sky to pay tribute to the teenager. Three white balloons were released to honor the family. After the event, the family remained and appeared to be comforting students. Many hugs and words were exchanged following the memorial service. Some students shared their memories. Blake Bogle said he had attended school with Amanda Allison since ninth-grade and described her as "big on laughing."
"I remember her laugh," he offered.
Rachael Gonzales said Amanda Allison was her best friend and they were together most of the time. They liked to "hang out" and go out to eat Chinese food. Neither had a steady boyfriend, Gonzales said, but they liked to talk about boys. However, she said, she never once heard Amanda Allison mention the name of Cody Lynn Gorecke, the 19-year-old resident of Wilburn who is charged with causing her death. Tears streaming down her face, Gonzales said her best friend planned on attending ASU after college and to be a policeman.
"I want to remember every day I spent with her," Gonzales offered.
The two were going to celebrate her birthday together the night of her death, Gonzales said. It was canceled, she said, because Amanda Allison told her that she needed to help another friend. Alternative plans were made to celebrate Friday night — the day that has now been set aside as the teenager’s funeral.
Funeral services are planned for 5 p.m. Friday at Mt. Carmel Baptist Church in Cabot. Visitation is to be held from 3 to 5 p.m.