Nearly 300 people gathered late Monday at Santa Rosa High School for a candlelight vigil to mourn the death of a recent graduate known for her contagious optimism.
Giselle Ayala, an 18-year-old freshman at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, died over the weekend after falling from a cliff near Santa Barbara during an annual spring break party, her family said.
On Monday, friends gathered on the "senior steps" at the high school campus where Ayala last year was a senior ArtQuest student to share memories at a microphone.
For nearly two hours, former classmates holding candles told stories about Ayala's knack for making people feel welcome and cared for.
"She would be blown away by all the love and support," said her sister, Nastassia Ayala, a student at Cal State Chico, to the group. "Just know that she loved each and every one of you."
Ayala's mother Cat Ayala said she was moved to know people gathered in her daughter's honor and she felt the support even though she and her husband were too grief-stricken to attend. Ayala's father is Emiliano Ayala, associate dean at Humboldt State, who until last fall worked at Sonoma State University.
"She was just an amazing kid," said Cat Ayala, a speech pathologist for Santa Rosa City Schools. "I just do not understand how she could be gone."
Ayala had headed down the coast from San Luis Obispo to Isla Vista with university friends.
The bluff and beachside community of nearly 20,000 had exploded with an additional 15,000 to 18,000 people for an annual spring break party known as "Deltopia."
At about 11 p.m. Friday, Ayala left a party to use a bathroom as officers began to break it up, her mother said she has learned from detectives investigating her daughter's death.
The environment apparently became chaotic as the party disbanded and authorities suspect that as everyone quickly scattered in the dark, Ayala fell from a cliff.