PLANT CITY, Fla. (WFLA) — It did not take long for Heather Strawn’s students to take action.
“They texted me Sunday night and they said we want to decorate her chair because we want her with us and to know that we loved her,” she said.
This school week, a memorial for Alyssa Hernandez, 17, has grown to include her favorite artist, Taylor Swift, her favorite character, Hello Kitty, and her beloved blue Volkswagen Beetle.
“This will be here until they graduate from high school,” said Strawn.
Strawn spoke to reporters Wednesday while sitting in Alyssa Hernandez’s seat in her AVID class.
“This is where she sat. This is her home in this class,” she said.
The course, “Advancement Via Individual Determination,” helps students prepare for college and beyond.
Since her freshman year, Hernandez has stood out in the class.
“She took on the initiative to take college level classes. She took classes at HCC already. She was always looking for the next thing she could do to better herself,” said Strawn. “She made sure that she did the best that she could, which was always straight A’s.”
Hernandez recently learned her GPA was in the top ten of her junior class at Plant City High School, which has more than 600 students.
She already had her heart set on attending University of Florida after high school.
Along with smarts, Alyssa Hernandez also had style.
“Every morning, everybody would wait for Alyssa to walk down the hallway because they wanted to see what she was wearing that day and she never wore the same outfit twice,” said Strawn.
But on Monday morning, Hernandez’s presence at school was different.
“On the way to school on Monday, the sky was really pretty and one of my girls pointed out, she goes, ‘that’s Alyssa’s outfit today.’ She goes, that’s what she’s’ wearing today’,” said Strawn.
On Saturday, Alyssa was riding to a birthday celebration with her parents, Jose G. Hernandez, 52 and Enedelia Hernandez, 50; her siblings, Aniella Hernandez, 22 and Julian Hernandez, 9, her sister’s boyfriend, Guillermo Gama III, 23, and her friend, Jakub Lopez, 17.
Their car collided with a train in Plant City, killing all five members of the Hernandez family and Jakub Lopez, who had been Alyssa Hernandez’s close friend since middle school.
“Those were the two that would brighten up your day. They were just the ones that you look forward to seeing in the morning because they were always at school because they knew the importance of their education,” said Strawn.
Strawn taught Lopez in middle school.
“Still when I’d see Jakub out in the hallways—’hey Ms. Strawn, how are you doing today?’ It was always that contagious smile,” she said.
Gama, the sole survivor of the crash, remains hospitalized at Lakeland Regional Health.
Strawn is now having to be more than a teacher, but also a consoler as she and her students navigate a tragedy.
“It just broke me. Like you know, you think about—how are we gonna go on? On the way to school on Monday, I’m like, they’re not gonna walk down the hallway anymore. I don’t know how people handle that,” she said.