Monday's post-spring break return to school was an emotional one for Brookwood High School students, who mourned the loss of one of their own, popular junior Amanda Riley.
Riley passed away Friday afternoon while most of her classmates were enjoying a week off from school. The 17-year-old had battled cancer for more than a year and her fight sparked widespread fundraising and cancer education programs at Brookwood.
As of Monday afternoon, the "R.I.P. Amanda Riley" Facebook page had nearly 3,000 fans, who paid their respects to one of the high school's most well-liked students.
"Amanda is one of the best people I've ever met," said Scott Terry, who coached Riley on Brookwood's basketball team. "One day I hope my son is fortunate enough and blessed enough to date and marry someone like her. She was a wonderful individual. She had a beautiful smile, an outgoing personality. She was one of the those people you couldn't help but love being around."
Riley was first diagnosed with cancer in early March 2009, when doctors found a rare rhabdomyosarcoma tumor on her bladder. After 14 rounds of chemotherapy and 30 days of radiation, she appeared to have the cancer beaten earlier this year. She got her driver's license and was ready to play sports again, but most importantly be a regular teenager.
But in late March -- the night before she was to receive the Joe Marelle Courage Award at the Tipoff Club of Gwinnett banquet -- she returned to the hospital because of recurring headaches and neck pain. An MRI showed a mass on her brain and at the top of her spinal cord.
The news of her passing this past Friday hit her classmates hard, and Brookwood had extra counselors on hand Monday to deal with their grief.
"Anytime you have the death of a young person like Amanda, even for us as adults, it's not right," Terry said. "It's not right that kids pass away before their parents and grandparents. For her teammates and friends, this is as close to death as they've ever been. It's tough on them in that respect. And when it's an individual like Amanda, who touched so many lives, it's very tough on those who knew her. She even made an impact on people who never met her."
Terry said his e-mail was busy Monday with letters of support for Riley's family and friends. She made an impact on the basketball community, but also as a runner with the Broncos' cross country and track teams. She was a state qualifier in cross country before her illness.
She also served as a peer leader, considered to be one of the leaders at her large high school.
"We're getting by," Terry said. "It's been a tough few days here. (Tuesday) will probably be even tougher. But we'll get through it."
Funeral services for Riley are at 3 p.m. today at Mt. Zion Baptist Church in Snellville.