The school was stunned by the sudden death of Yanelí Hernandez on Thursday, April 3. Her death, which was caused by the result of complications due to undiagnosed leukemia, came as a surprise to everyone.
A week prior to her passing, fifteen-year-old Yanelí woke up feeling ill with blood blisters covering her hands. Her mother immediately took her to the hospital, where the physicians ran tests to see what was wrong. Before the tests returned, Yanelí went into a coma and was pronounced brain dead on Tuesday. She passed away two days later due to an aneurysm.
On Friday, April 4 Principal Wynne Satterwhite went on the loudspeaker to inform the students of this loss. During brunch, her friends gathered together and played a CD that they had created in memory of her. At lunch they also created posters, cards and banners that were strewn around the campus.
“I would be remiss if I did not say how deeply touched I was by the outpouring of love and respect her peers showed while dealing with their own grief,” said Kathy Sulaver, Yanelí’s English teacher via email. “The tributes and celebrations of her life were so poignant and handled with such a genuine sense of caring … very moving.”
The students reconvened yet again during sixth period for a symbolic balloon ceremony. The ceremony, which was completely organized by her peers, involved the releasing of about 15 dozen white balloons with written messages etched to Yanelí on each.
“They knew that she was going to be watching over them and that she would still be here,” said Heidi Frost, Yanelí’s Study Skills teacher.
The school offered help to those students who were extremely troubled by the sudden loss. Extra CHAC counselors were brought in to speak with her friends, and the administration hosted a lunch for the staff members who had been a part of Yanelí’s life.
Her friends collected money from students on Friday to give to the family. Members of Yanelí’s neighborhood also went door-to-door asking for donations, and the staff at the school organized some funds as well. The money collected was presented to Yanelí’s mother on Friday, April 11 a memorial service hosted by the school during lunch.
Organized by Satterwhite and Yanelí’s friends, the memorial service was held in the Eagle Theatre and was filled with an outpour of friends, family and staff. A slideshow was featured and about four speeches were made by her closest friends. Many noted the fact that Yanelí was an angel and Frost certainly agrees with this.
“She touched a lot of lives here,” Frost said. “We knew that but it was amazing to see as they all came together.”
A viewing service was held on the Wednesday and Thursday following her death. Friends, family and staff attended the service. Yanelí will be buried in Mexico, although it is still unsure when.