More than 150 students gathered in Lodi High's gym on a cold and slightly overcast Friday morning to pray for one another and share in the loss of a peer.
The campus' Christian Club opened its regular meeting up to the entire student body to grieve for junior Stephanie Jones, who died following injuries she sustained in a vehicle accident last weekend.
Club president Kyle Suess said he wanted to provide a place where everyone could gather together.
As student Troy Lee strummed his acoustic guitar, one line from a popular church hymn rang out: "All who gather here bless your name."
Many kept their heads bowed during the student-led singing while others held onto one another and openly shed tears.
Some wore cheerleading sweatshirts with Jones' first name listed in the first column, while others had on specially-made T-shirts like the one with Jone's famous quote: "I saved you some nachos … with extra cheese."
Although he didn't personally know Jones, Suess empathized with students.
"I just want you to know we'll be praying. Pray for the family … just lift up her soul," Suess told the students, who ended the 30-minute prayer meeting with a group hug in the middle of the gym floor.
He encouraged any of them to return to a future C Club meeting in the weeks to come.
"In times like this, it's a good thing to come together and be close," club adviser Jeff Palmquist said.
Grief counselors were available all day Friday, but Principal Bill Atterberry said students were instead bonding together and channeling their grief into positive things like fund-raising. Many also continued making T-shirts with Jones' artwork and collecting snapshots of her to give to her family.
Following last Friday's accident, Jones had been taken to UC Davis Medical Center in Sacramento, where she remained in critical condition for much of the week.
According to Stockton police, the 16-year-old was riding in a vehicle and was ejected during a crash near Eight Mile and Thornton roads last Friday night, before being hit by another vehicle. She suffered a brain injury and was taken off life support Friday afternoon, a family member said.
Lodi Funeral Home will be handling the arrangements, and people are encouraged to drop photos and memorial posters off there. A memorial fund has been set up at the Downtown Lodi Bank of America.
"The family is very, very pleased at how much support they've received," Jones' aunt, Katherine Day, said. "Stephanie had support from Placerville, where she cheered for two years before coming to Lodi. People have just been here with us in the waiting room. They've been just great. Our hearts are full with so much love people had for her."
A Web site where students can post their remembrances has been set up at www.myspace.com/stephsfamlee.
The family would like to add that Jones, who was an organ donor, was able to save lives right there at the med center and elsewhere where people were waiting for donations.
Contact reporter Jennifer Bonnett at firstname.lastname@example.org.