The purple-pink blossoms that soon will appear on a newly planted redbud tree outside of Hilton Head Island High School will be more than a harbinger of spring for the senior class.
The tree is a memorial to classmate Estefany Arce-Castro, who died Jan. 5 at age 18 in a single-car crash on Interstate 95 in Georgia.
"She spent seven hours of her day here," said classmate Areli Fernandez, 16.With the tree planted, "it's like she's still here."
The senior class gathered for a short ceremony outside the school Tuesday morning to remember Estefany, who they say was friendly and bright.
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Joel Hernandez, 17, had known her a few years. At first, he thought she was shy. But over time, her energetic and fun-loving personality shone through, like when a group attended a fair in Savannah, and Estefany was determined to go on all the carnival rides, he said.
Estefany's mother, Karla Castro-Salazar, said she hopes the tree will help Estefany's sister, Yariela, who returned to school this week after recovering from chest injuries in the crash.
Both Joel and Areli said students are dedicated to helping Yariela through this difficult time.
The sisters were very close, Areli said. "We'll show her we're there for her. I don't want her to feel sad."
Although she was a junior, Estefany had accelerated her studies and planned to graduate this year. Students plan to leave one seat empty at graduation to memorialize her.
Follow reporter Rachel Heaton at twitter.com/HomeroomBft.