With tears and laughter, hundreds of friends and relatives Tuesday celebrated the life of Allyssa Squirrell, the 11-year-old girl who died last week after she was hit by a boat propeller during a Junior Lifeguard training exercise off Huntington Beach.
Inside Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, they recalled a lively girl who always had a smile on her face and loved to write songs. They used colored markers to write notes to Allyssa on construction paper. Many wore sky blue ribbons pinned to their shirts.
A slide show captured Allyssa's life in snapshots: as a baby with a toothy grin, as a young girl on a swing set wearing a shirt that said "Fabulous," in a swimsuit and goggles in the ocean.
In the lavender memorial program, the Squirrell family wrote of a girl who was excited about starting sixth grade, who could sing with perfect pitch and "was always ready to hit the surf."
"She was one of 10 children who all adore her and miss her," wrote the family, which lives in Laguna Hills. "She was a keystone in our family."
The family wrote that Allyssa was having the "best summer" as a Junior Lifeguard. "She adored the program, loved the structure and would challenge herself daily to be the best she could be," they wrote.
Her 17-year-old brother, Josh, spoke to the estimated 500 people in attendance, telling them that after he found out about Allyssa's death, he went into her room and stumbled upon a few notebooks in which she had written song lyrics.
In a teary speech, he spoke of how moved he was when he read her words: Who did I want to be when I grow up? Who is that person in my eyes? God, God, God, God. He's my Savior (ya ya ya). God wants us to have eternal life.
The accident occurred while Allyssa was participating in a training exercise known as a speed drop, in which Junior Lifeguards drop into the water off a moving rescue boat. She was struck when the boat circled around to pick up the swimmers. She died in surgery.
The accident, the first fatality since the Junior Lifeguard program began in 1964, is being reviewed by the Orange County Sheriff's Harbor Patrol.