The death of a 14-year-old Santa Rosa girl due to alcohol-related causes has brought an outpouring of support for the grieving family and calls for parents to talk to their children about the dangers of alcohol consumption.
The investigation into the death of Takeimi Rao is on pause as detectives await toxicology results to determine the amount of alcohol ingested by the teen and the role it may have played in her death.
Three friends were with Rao Saturday night at a sleepover in her north Santa Rosa home when they snuck vodka from a kitchen cabinet and drank the liquor mixed with soda. All four became ill and threw up during the night. Rao was found dead on her bedroom floor and it is possible she choked on her own vomit, officials said.
Neither the girls, who apparently told Rao's mother they had food poisoning after becoming sick, nor their families have spoken publicly about the incident. They were not identified by Sonoma County sheriff's officials who said they were waiting for confirmation on how Rao died before releasing their names.
The surviving girls initially told officials they didn't know what they were drinking, "but when the gravity of the situation hit them, they told us exactly what happened," Lt. Dennis O'Leary said.
"They knew they were drinking alcohol," he said.
However investigators still don't know how much alcohol they consumed. The girls were taken to a hospital for evaluation but it was more than 12 hours after they were drinking; the alcohol had flushed from their bodies, he said.
As for Rao, who will be buried Friday, "it's just going to come down to the toxicology report," O'Leary said.
The outpouring of support for Rao and her family will be on display Wednesday when Rincon Valley Middle School will open its campus for an informal gathering of students and parents from 6 to 7 p.m.
Rao, an "A" student, completed the eighth grade this year at Rincon Valley and was set to start high school next month at Maria Carrillo.
"It's a place for students to come and meet with friends," Rincon Valley principal Matt Marshall said.
The school's parent group will provide light snacks and there will be therapy dogs and counselors at the Badger Road school site. The event, open to the public, will take place in the quad.
Rao's death marks the second time in less than a year that the eighth-grade class at Rincon Valley Middle School has lost a student.
Chris Pierpoint, a gifted student and talented athlete, died in November after suffering a brain hemorrhage while he slept.
In that instance too, therapy dogs and counselors were deployed to the Badger Road campus, while school officials set up tables for flowers, cards and mementoes for a lost friend.
Family members of Rao also announced they will have a public memorial service for her this week.
The funeral, open to the public, will be at 2 p.m. Friday at St. Eugene's Cathedral on Montgomery Drive in Santa Rosa. Her family will hold a private burial following the service.
Family friend Angie Phillips said Rao's mother, Aleae Pennette, had received an outpouring of support from other teens and their families, many of whom expressed a desire to come together to mourn the loss of Rao.