Kneeling amid floral bouquets and gently swaying balloons, Bridget Lyons of Petaluma carefully placed three thin white candles at the base of a growing memorial.
Sniffling, she gently positioned them below signs reading "rest in peace" and "thoughts and prayers" for Alyssa Byrne.
"Just three candles," Lyons said. "Three to me is very important: a mother, a father, a child."
More than 400 people — Byrne's classmates, teammates, co-workers, friends, family and complete strangers — attended a candlelight memorial Friday night at Casa Grande High School for the young Petaluma woman who died in Tahoe over New Year's.
Shivering against the cold and clutching loved ones for warmth and support, many simply held candles and stood silently, perhaps remembering good times with Byrne.
"I'm thinking of the family. I really feel for them," said a tearful Lyons, a "team mom," for one of Byrne's lacrosse teams.
Several lacrosse players from Casa and Petaluma high schools — Byrne played for both — laid sprays of tulips, roses or mums along the memorial at the edge of the athletic fields. Many wrote loving notes on the memorial signs.
A few shared funny stories of their friend who died too young.
"She had a spirit about her," said Katie Modell, 20, who played lacrosse with Byrne in 2009 at Casa.
"She was absolutely hilarious," said Casa teammate Ashley Cook, 20, who now lives in Reno. "There was never a dull moment in practice with her, ever."
Three Petaluma High teammates, Sarah Shada, 19, Claire Langley, 20, and Macy Mannix, 20, walked together in front of the crowd to break the somber mood and share a few thoughts about their friend.
"Alyssa wasn't the kind of person who would want us to just stand here silently — she wouldn't," Shada said. "I will never step on another lacrosse field without thinking of her."
"And I will finally admit, yes, Alyssa, you are better than me," Langley said.
Byrne was "good at anything that was fun," Mannix said, laughing, "including beer pong," a party game.
Greg Byrne, Alyssa's brother, told the crowd his family was thankful for the support through this most horrific time.
"We so appreciate everything this community has done to come together and help us find my sister," he said.
"At least we found her and at least we know."
(You can reach Staff Writer Lori A. Carter at 762-7297 or email@example.com.)