The death of 14-year-old cross-country runner Megan Myers after a three-mile race stunned Dana Hills High School, as students and parents tried Thursday to comprehend the loss of an athlete with so much life yet to live.
"She was the greatest kid, very bright and full of life," said Terry Tutton, a longtime friend of Myers and her family. "She had always been a runner and very athletic."
The freshman collapsed Wednesday afternoon while competing against Capistrano Valley High School at Laguna Niguel Regional Park.
Witnesses said she was about two miles into the race when she began to feel faint and was helped along by a teammate.
"They thought she was dehydrated, so they gave her liquids," Tutton said. "She got up and walked and then collapsed."
Her coach, Rex Hall, immediately administered CPR. Paramedics and emergency personnel arrived and struggled in vain to revive the girl.
A parent who witnessed the event but asked not to be identified said spectators thought Myers had fainted.
"Then the girls started crying," he said. "Then the paramedics started doing CPR, and we knew this wasn't normal."
Myers was taken to Mission Hills Hospital in Mission Viejo and pronounced dead at 5:59 p.m., said Jim Amormino, spokesman for the Orange County Sheriff's Department. An autopsy Thursday did not determine the cause of death and further toxicology tests would be done, he said.
Beverly deNicola, spokeswoman for the Capistrano Unified School District, said the loss stunned the school, which has a well-respected cross country program. She said Myers also played soccer and had passed the medical exam required before taking part in school sports.
"We are asking the media to give her family some privacy," DeNicola said.
Dana Hills High School Principal Robert Nye sent a message to parents.
"We are all deeply saddened and shocked by this loss," he wrote. "There are grief counselors available . . . for any students who need to speak with someone. This is an incredibly difficult time for our Dana Hills family and our thoughts and prayers are with the Myers family."
Myers' brother, Mathew, is a sophomore at Dana Hills High, and her sister, Madison, is in elementary school.
Her family and friends issued a statement late Thursday describing the teen as a devoted daughter and loving sister, cruelly taken far too soon.
"Megan was the daughter every parent wants: a caring, intelligent, beautiful girl with a brightness of personality and spirit," they wrote. "That smile, that lovely beautiful smile which could instantly brighten any room . . . will be so missed. That heart, so full of love and compassion . . . will be missed. That personality and zest for life . . . will be so missed. That friendly, freckled beautiful face . . . will be so missed."
Because Myers was a member of the Dana Point Youth Board and considered a city official, flags were lowered to half-staff at City Hall. The city issued a statement commending Myers for her activism on the board and for being a library volunteer and an honor roll student.
"Megan was extremely excited by the opportunity to further support her community by joining with other Dana Point youth and contributing her ideas about community events as well as inspiring others to volunteer and participate in community activities," the statement said.
On campus Thursday, students sought out grief counselors, and a makeshift memorial of flowers and cards took shape on school grounds.
The varsity girls cross-country team left for Hawaii on Thursday to compete in another race. A parent who met the girls said they wore shirts saying, "We are running for Megan."
Through the day, students filed into the Myers home offering sympathy.
"They are a tight-knit family and they are handling it well," said Tutton, who is acting as the family spokeswoman. "By well, I mean they are processing it, which means a lot of tears and a lot of discussion."
She said Megan was a reserved, somewhat naive girl with a sweet disposition.
"It wasn't until high school that she really started to come out of her shell," she said. "She had a wonderful aura around her."
A memorial service was being planned, but no date had been set.
Times editorial assistant Nardine Saad contributed to this report.