ST. PETERSBURG — They were hurting and didn't know what to say, but they tried.
Hundreds of students, teachers, faculty and parents from Keswick Christian School attended a prayer service tonight at the school to remember Katie Yale, the 15-year-old high school sophomore from Seminole who died after a Labor Day boating collision on Lake Seminole.
Dozens wrote messages on white tablecloths placed over two tables. On one table someone had placed a teddy bear.
“Katie....we will never forget you and will rejoice when we see you again,” one person wrote.
“Thank you so much for the blessing of Katie and your family,'' another wrote. “She will always be with us in our hearts.''
Katie was smart and caring and devoted to her Christian faith, said Nick Stratis, superintendent of the Keswick Christian School in St. Petersburg where Yale attended.
“She was a beautiful young lady,” Stratis said. “She'd make us laugh. That's what we're going to miss the most. Her smile, her laugh, her goofiness – it just was infectious.”
Katie died after a towed inner tube she was riding on was struck by a personal watercraft at about 1:45 p.m. Monday, the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office said.
Her father, Douglas Yale, 44, of Seminole, was operating a 19-foot Key West center console boat, towing an inner tube carrying Katie and another girl, the sheriff's office said.
A Sea Doo personal watercraft, operated by Ryan Godcharles, 21, of Naples, collided with the tube, sending the girls into the water, the sheriff's office said.
Katie was taken to the hospital in critical condition and died this morning. The other girl on the tube, 13-year-old Aubree Franz, of Seminole, received minor injuries, the sheriff's office said. No other injuries were reported from the collision.
The case remains under investigation, the sheriff's office said. Alcohol did not appear to be a factor in the incident, investigators said.
After learning of Katie's death, the school held a special assembly where students came together to pray and share stories about their friend. There were counselors and pastors available to meet with students during the school day, Stratis said.
Students are going through a multitude of emotions, Stratis said.
“We're ready for that,” Stratis said. “We're going to put our arms around them and love them at the same time.”
It was a Labor Day weekend and a time to have fun, and then a tragedy occurred, Stratis said.
“In a moment everything is turned upside down. That's how precious life is,” Stratis said.
Several hundred people attended the service. They prayed, sang hymns and came together to show support for Katie and her family.
“She was a bright student,” Stratis said. “She could have done anything she put her mind to. She had a caring heart.”
Katie has two sisters, an eighth- and first-grader, and was an active member of Park Street Baptist Church in St. Petersburg. Katie was the daughter of Douglas and Karen Yale, a guidance counselor at Keswick, according to the school's Facebook page.
A funeral service hasn't been set.
During the service, Stratis asked people in attendance to also pray for Godcharles.
“We know that he's hurting,” Stratis said. “We understand that accidents happen. ... They're hurting. He's hurting. We want him to know that the Keswick community is praying for this young man. ... We've all made mistakes. This one, unfortunately, he'll live with for the rest of his life.”