ST. JOHNS COUNTY, Fla. — St. Johns County and surrounding communities have been devastated after deputies say a teen was murdered.
The St. Johns County School District said more than 200 students were absent from 13-year-old Tristyn Bailey’s school Monday, while the others attending wore white to remember her.
The District said grief counselors were very busy helping students and staff, and will be available as long as they are needed.
Tristyn was well known for having a kind heart, a beaming smile and being a talented cheerleader.
“Excellent base, hard worker, but most importantly, loud, bubbly, always smiling,” said Tracie Hartkmeyer, who owns the Infinity Allstars team Tristyn cheered on. “She’s the true meaning of a team player. She’d jump in and help anywhere.”
Hartkmeyer organized a gathering for teammates and friends to create a memory board filled with pictures and notes.
Dozens gathered in the Infinity Allstar gym, sharing tears and hugs while watching an emotional slideshow of pictures of Tristyn.
Hartkmeyr said Tristyn’s talent really shined as recently she worked with three cheer squads.
“I know for sure Tristyn loved this sport,” Hartkmeyer said.
Hartkmeyer said Tristyn was a strong base and had a bright future.
“She was very bubbly, very outgoing and made friends very easily,” Hartkmeyer said.
Hundreds of community members also attended a candle light vigil in the Durbin Crossing neighborhood Monday night.
Addison Strumlauf, one of Tristyn’s former cheerleading teammates, said she was a good friend to so many.
“She's an outgoing, loving person that's there for anyone – even if she doesn't even know them," Strumlauf explained. "She's the type of person that would be there for them. She's amazing. She didn't deserve us at all, and it's a very tragic incident.”
Hartkmeyer wanted to make sure parents told their kids the news of Tristyn’s death before it spread on social media.
“We felt it was necessary for their parents to tell their children what is going on and what happened in their words and how they wanted to relay that,” Hartkmeyer said.
Counselor Steven Montesinos said this was the right call, and it’s important for parents to be in tune with their kids emotions in a time like this.
“When news like this develops very quickly, you have very little time to decide, to determine, how do I bring this up to my children?” Montesinos said.
Montesino says the best approach is honesty.
“We don’t want to confuse them further by not being very specific and very direct about what happened,” Montesinos said.
It’s also important for information to be age-appropriate.
“The younger children probably keeping it pretty simple and also reassuring them of their safety,” Montesinos said. “And then high school children might have the conversation about how do we bring about change.”
Montesinos said it’s important to keep in mind, there is no right or wrong way kids deal with their feelings as long as it’s safe.
“Talk with your children that it’s okay to have really powerful feelings about things,” Montesinos said. “For instance, you might be really angry right now, but that’s not okay to take out on somebody else.”
Montesinos said a really important step in this process is just letting kids know you’re there and you’re listening.
“At this point it’s providing structure to a conversation and practice being a very good listener,” Montesinos said.
The school gave the following websites as guides for parents to help children mourn: