JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — If the word 'light' is a cliche used at memorial services, it takes a special person to give the term true meaning and impact. On Tuesday evening, the family, friends and mentors of Tristyn Bailey left little doubt that she was a light in their lives.
People packed Celebration Church Arena Tuesday evening for a celebration of Tristyn's life. Many of the people filling the seats wore bright shades of white and aqua, Tristyn's favorite colors. It was only right that those bright colors represented a young teenager whose vivid personality made an impact on those around her.
Behind the stage was a banner reading:
"That's my squad. You mess with one of us, you mess with all of us because we are a family."
"You guys amaze us," her mother said. "The outpour of love from our community is breathtaking, and we cannot thank you enough for that."
Tristyn was a middle school student at Patriot Oaks Academy. Despite her young age, she had distinguished herself as a promising cheerleader in North Florida, where she had already won awards and championships.
Yet, her spirit went well beyond cheerleading as people recalled her kindness and positive outlook on life.
"Tristyn always made her presence well-known. That's why she shined so bright in cheer and rounded up some of the best friends a girl could hope for," Tristyn's sister said.
Tim Timberlake, the senior pastor of Celebration Church, thanked Bailey's family for allowing the church to hold to service. He also talked about the family's resiliency through the tragedy.
"It struck me how incredibly strong and courageous they are in the face of adversity," Timberlake said.
He also talked about why the service was called a celebration considering the tragic way Bailey died, quoting from Paul's letter to the Thessalonians in the New Testament.
"We celebrate because we have a hope that Tristyn is now with Jesus," the pastor said. "And who else could fill a gym? Who else could fill a stadium? And tonight, fill this room with people from all different backgrounds of life, but Tristyn."
Allison Olson, the principal at Patriot Oaks Academy, also took the stage, discussing the wide range of emotions felt by both students and staff. Afterward, she called for the community to unite behind Tristyn's story. She asked people to be a light for each other, making positive choices to make their light "glow."
"We all face dark days and some storms," Olson said. "But when we allow our trials and difficulties to make us better, we rid our lives of darkness, and we let light and happiness prevail."
"Tristyn, our sweet girl, you will be missed," Olson continued. "I promise you, we will remember you by becoming a little kinder, a little more patient, and a little more compassionate. We promise to try to be better people every day. We promise to choose to be light."
Afterward, the mothers of some of Tristyn's friends went on stage to share their memories of the girl that one of the women described as 'like a sister to my daughters.'
In one memorable story that took place two weeks before, the mother said Tristyn and some friends were at her birthday celebration. The three girls were in cheer clothes, but only Tristyn sported a new jacket.
"Her two friends were cold in the restaurant," the mother recalled. "So, of course, she did what any good friend would do. If you're thinking she gave one of them the jacket, no. They all three shared it."
"She had the unique ability to make us all feel special," another mother remembered. "You know what, we were probably all her favorite. She had that much love to give."
One of the mothers fought against her tears as she remembered the moments of joy brought to her family by Tristyn. She spoke to Tristyn's family, reminding them that the community's love will help sustain them through the difficult time.
Then, she closed with a quote from Winnie the Pooh:
"If there ever comes a day when we can't be together, keep me in your heart, and I will stay there forever."
Tristyn's four older sisters and brother took the stage next, showing calm and strength as they discussed memories of their sister.
"Tristyn was my little mini," her older sister said. "She was our family's baby. Our idle, the one deep down we wish we could be like."
Her sister poignantly addressed some of the social media posts that had caused great controversy in the aftermath of Tristyn's passing, urging people to respond with positivity.
"My advice is counteract any negativity with a positive, uplifting story of our girl because always, always, she would defend the underdog, regardless if she was friends with them or not."
"Tristyn, I love you more than words can express," her sister said in closing. "I can't wait for the day I get to see you again. 'Til then, we will be down here cheering you on, while you're above freaking out over the millions of admirers you have gained. My girl: You have gone viral."
One of her other sisters remembered a summer she spent with Tristyn and her brother. She described watching Tristyn grow, while also describing 'coodling' [cuddling] with her sister at the end of the day.
"That summer, I will always hold close to my heart," she said with a smile. "Our own special memories were made just for the two of us."
She closed with her own lesson she learned through her experience.
"When someone you love becomes a memory, the memories become treasures," she said. "Let Tristyn become your treasure."
Her third sister took the microphone and recalled their relationship as the sisters closest in age to each other. Though her speech was short, she helped to explain the relationship between the two sisters closest in age with their constant bickering but loving relationship.
"Tristyn may not always be by my side, but she will always be in my heart," she said.
Her brother was the final sibling to speak. Like his siblings, he recalled one of memorable traits of his sister was her desire to be the center of attention, standing out from her four siblings.
"Right now, Tristyn is probably looking at me saying, 'Yeah, you're my brother,'" he said. "Right now, I'm Tristyn's brother, and that is something I am proud of."
Her brother credited all three of his sisters for helping him to grow as a person and offered several lessons he said he learned from Tristyn.
"The world could be made much brighter with just one smile. Always be proud of yourself, and never hide yourself. No matter who is watching, go and be silly. Go enjoy life," he said. "And most importantly, to have the determination and drive to reach your goals."
"The last thing I got to talk to my sister about is that I reached my goals," he continued. "I know one day I will see her again. And my new goal is to tell her that I reached all my goals between now and then. That is something I learned from her."
The most emotional moment of the service was when Tristyn's parents, flanked by her four brothers and sisters, together ascended the stage to address the congregation and to remember their daughter.
"This morning, I went into Tristyn's room, and I went there to 'coodle' because that's what she always asked. I just wanted to try to be close to her, and be next to her," Tristyn's mother said as she fought back tears. "I made a promise to her today that I was going to keep her memory alive. I was going to make her name shine above all the evil that has happened."
Remembering her birth, Tristyn's mother recalled that her lively personality began earlier saying she was the "loudest one in the nursery." Her mother also talked about Tristyn's drive and determination to follow her passion for cheering, including teaching herself several moves to prove to her mother that it was worth the commitment.
Yet, through cheer, she developed close bonds and friendships with her teammates and coaches.
"Tristyn cared deeply for her friends and wanted to have as many friends as she could," her mother said. "She could be a silly teenager, but have heart-to-hears with adults when she wasn't an adult."
"For now, I will follow what Tristyn always said," her mother closed through her tears. "Get it together. You got this mom. Always and forever my cheerleader and my sweet baby girl."
She handed the microphone off to her husband and fell into the embrace of her son.
Her father thanked each member of the family for their strength through the difficult time. Then, he thanked all of those who have supported the family in the past week. And the help came from a number of places."
He also thanked the St. Johns County Sheriff's Office said for their dedication in their investigation. He asked the congregation to offer a loud cheer for their work and support, which the crowd enthusiastically complied with a standing ovation.
After, he took out a slip of paper as he thanked people for their words of healing and love to the family. From the paper, he retold an old Native American tale:
"The was a Cherokee elder who was talking to his grandson [...] about the battle that goes on within us. He was talking about two wolves fighting.
"He said, "There is one wolf that is evil. It is anger, envy, jealousy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority and ego.
"The other wolf is good. It's joy, peace and love, hope and serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, truth, compassion and faith.'
"And the grandson poses the question to the elder: 'Which wolf wins?' And the elder's response is, 'The one you feed.'"
In talking about the tributes and acts of giving towards the family, he related the story saying the acts of kindness will help them remember Tristyn's name.
"It is us saying we're alright. It is us saying we have love and our love is greater than the evil that can exist in the world," he said. "Last week, I asked for privacy and didn't get it, yet it gave us the love and support that we needed."
He then made a request to all that could hear his voice, whether at the church or watching online.
"There's many people who have lost loved ones," he said. "Please, if you can, today, tomorrow, the next few days, give them your love because it never goes away."
Finally, he called his family to stand next to them and asked the congregation to stand. In a powerful moment of unity, he made one last request: For the crowd to yell in their loudest voice, "Tristyn Bailey Strong."
After a count of three, he held the microphone toward the people gathered in the church as they said in one unified voice, "Tristyn Bailey Strong!"
You can watch the full celebration of Tristyn's life below.