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In a parent's worst-nightmare scenario, a girl on the cusp of high school slipped a bottle of vodka from a kitchen cupboard into her bedroom to share with three friends sleeping over at her hillside home north of Santa Rosa.

By morning, she was dead in her own vomit.

Investigators believe Takeimi Rao, 14, a popular A student headed for Mario Carrillo High School next month, may have died in her sleep Sunday morning after drinking soda mixed with vodka.

News of her death spread quickly through Facebook and cellphone messages as friends offered condolences and sought information.

Sonoma County sheriff's officials said Monday it remained unclear if Rao died of alcohol poisoning or from choking on her vomit.

"She was one of those girls who was just the most respectful kid; you want your kids to hang out with her because she was that good of a girl," said Angie Phillips, 36, of Santa Rosa, whose daughter was Rao's close friend. "That's why it's so troubling."

The teenager, daughter of Aleae Pennette and stepdaughter of Scott Moyer, had recently graduated from Rincon Valley Middle School.

She was an "outstanding student" who excelled in the arts, said Matt Marshall, the principal.

The results of an autopsy conducted Monday were inconclusive, said Assistant Sonoma County Sheriff Lorenzo Due?s. A final cause of death will await results of toxicology tests, which could take several weeks.

Investigators would not release the names of the three teenage girls who spent the night at their friend's home in the exclusive Foothills development off Mark West Springs Road, an enclave of large homes mostly hidden behind gates on sprawling wooded lots.

Beyond a tidy backyard, Rao's home faces south and overlooks the Santa Rosa Plain.

The four girls had eaten hamburgers together for dinner Saturday and gone to Rao's home for their sleepover.

At about 2 or 3 a.m., Pennette awoke when two of the girls became ill, sheriff's officials said. She tended to the girls through bouts of vomiting and put them back to bed. About an hour later, she awoke again when Rao and another girl were up and vomiting. She cared for them and put them back to bed, according to the Sheriff's Office.

Pennette told investigators that she was unaware that her daughter had been drinking and believed the girls had suffered food poisoning, Due?s said.

By 9 a.m., two girls had gone home and one was in the shower when either Pennette or Moyer tried to rouse Rao, Due?s said.

"She was unresponsive," he said.

The three girls told authorities that their friend had mixed soda and vodka into a water bottle that they passed around. They said they "didn't like the taste," according to Due?s.

It was unclear how much Rao or the others drank. At least one girl told authorities that she'd taken just a few sips.

The girls were taken to local hospitals to be evaluated, but it had been at least 12 hours since they were believed to have consumed alcohol and it wasn't clear whether toxicology tests would show how much or what they consumed, Due?s said.

"At this point, we are looking at it as an accident," he said.

Monday evening, Williams and her husband John Caster brought groceries to Pennette and her husband. Rao has been friends with their daughter since Rao moved to the area in elementary school.

She described Pennette as distraught. "She feels so responsible," she said.

"It makes us all think, what parent doesn't have old alcohol sitting in our cupboards? (Takeimi) is a good girl and Aleae is such a good mom," Williams said.

Rao attended elementary school at Whited School in Santa Rosa. At Rincon Valley Middle School, she advanced quickly as a dancer in the school's drama program and as a seventh-grader reached a level that usually only eighth-graders qualify for, said Marshall, the principal.

"She was really an outstanding student," he said. "We're really going to miss her."

Her final performance was as one of the Silly Girls in "Beauty and the Beast," the school's production this year.

"No matter how wonderful your child is, the best of kids will make mistakes," Marshall said.

Marshall said he and his wife "had a conversation" with their daughter about what happened to Takeimi.

"I'm sure almost every parent in Sonoma County is doing the same thing," he said, adding that if there's one message to take away from Takeimi's death, it is "vigilance."

Danielle Codding spent time with Rao at Mt. Gilead Bible Camp in Sebastopol a few weeks ago and considered Rao one of her closest friends, according to Danielle's mom, Michaela Codding.

Danielle was sitting in church Sunday morning when she received a phone call from a friend who was at the sleepover. Danielle Codding immediately called her mother.

"She said that something had happened to Takeimi, she had stopped breathing and wasn't waking up," Michaela Codding recalled. "I was just so confused. I didn't have the guts to ask her if she was dead."

Michaela Codding described Rao as a "sweet girl" who had shown no signs of being interested in drugs or alcohol.

Rao regularly earned student-of-the-week honors, said Jordan Rosada, a classmate at Rincon Valley. The pair were regular lab partners in eighth-grade science, he said.

"She used to help me with stuff I didn't know and she would understand why I didn't know it," he said. "She helped me a lot. She was very smart in school."

Classmate Spencer Metela said Rao was a gifted singer and dancer. "She had to dance and she was very good at it," he said.

"She was talkative, always very nice to everyone," he said. "She had a lot of friends."

Rosado said Rao was sincere and friendly.

"She wasn't fake. She knew how to talk from the heart and help people without trying to impress other people," he said. "She was really outgoing. If she didn't know you, she would make it a goal to make sure that she did."

StaffWriter Juilie Johson can be reached at 521-5220 or julie.johnson@pressdemocrat.com; Martin Espinoza at 521-5213 or martin.espinoza@pressdemocrat.com. and Kerry Benefield at 526-8671 or kerry.benefield@pressdemocrat.com.

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