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Rickman remembered fondly at candlelight vigil

Friends of Katlyn Rickman gather at a candlelight vigil to honor her memory. Rickman was a freshman. Photos by Tom Hagerty

by Tori North and Stacey Pierce

Fourteen-year-old Katlyn Rickman was on her way to friend Elena Morales’ house Tuesday afternoon when she was hit by a bus. This happened around 3 p.m. and within a few hours, Rickman had passed away at Tampa General Hospital.

Rickman was a freshman at Lakeland High School and was a member of not only the television production program, but also a part of people’s lives.

Family, staff and friends honored Rickman Thursday evening at 6 p.m. in the Lakeland High School cafeteria, with a candlelight vigil. The event was started by Principal Tracy Collins introducing Southwest Middle School Principal, John Wilson. Wilson knew Rickman very well and said he shared the same birthday with her. “Another birthday won’t pass without me thinking of her,” Wilson said, as he choked back tears.

Family friend, Kris Mela, recounted stories of Rickman and her brothers and sisters. Mela taught the siblings in TV Productions at Southwest Middle School. Mela talked of Rickman’s favorite color, green, and how she loved to explore the outdoors. She said Rickman was, “a sweet, good person.”

After Mela spoke, a video was played showing pictures of Rickman throughout her life and the packed audience proceeded outside the cafeteria for the candlelight vigil, which was accompanied by the Southwest Middle School band. Teachers lit candles for the audience while students leaned on each other for support.

The Morales family was also in attendance. Morales and Rickman spent a lot of their time together. They mainly hung out at Morales’ house. There, Morales said, they’d usually walk and talk.

“Our friendship was great,” Morales said. “We had our rough patches and we would get mad at each other sometimes, but that would never last long.” Still in shock about what happened, Morales said she can’t help but think her friend will once again reappear at her side. She added that Rickman would always be with her, even if only in her heart.

Benny Morales, Elena’s brother, was the one who broke the news to his family. “I came to them twice. I told them when she was on her way to the hospital, and whenever she passed away,” Benny said.  Though Benny did not know Rickman personally, he did know her brother, Patrick, also a student and television productions program staffer. Their sister Ashley was also a Dreadnaught.

Allison Etheridge, fellow student, was at the scene of the accident. “I loved her like a sister,” Etheridge said. “I made sure she knew that before she left.” She said Katlyn has always been there for her no matter what and she will always be remembered.

On Wednesday, news reporters from several stations were camped out before school started and could be seen throughout the day, just off campus property. A moment of silence, led by Principal Tracy Collins, was taken at the start of first period in honor of Katlyn. TV crews were also on hand for the vigil.

Teachers and students in Building E, traditionally a freshman building, were shaken and counselors were on hand throughout the day for anyone who needed to talk.

After the vigil ended, much of the crowd lingered, telling stories of Katlyn. Those in attendance were able to leave video messages for the Rickman family, courtesy of the Lakeland television production program.

A memorial fund has also been set up for the family at Wells Fargo bank for those who wish to contribute.