Whitney: Hundreds bid farewell to young girl who died too soon
Hundreds of mourners gathered Friday to bid farewell to Valley Mills Elementary School student Lily Mae Avant, 10, who died Sunday in a Fort Worth hospital after contracting a rare brain-eating amoeba.
A standing-room-only crowd of about 700 filled the Open Range Cowboy Church in Whitney for the emotional, hour-long service.
Most were dressed casually and were wearing blue at the family's request.
"In her final days she fought a good fight and built an army of prayer warriors,” said Tom Warnock, the pastor of the Old West Cowboy Church in Robinson, who officiated the service.
“You are here today along with others in the world. She changed Earth for a while. She changed people’s hearts for a while, she had an impact in people’s lives."
The story of the fifth grader’s fight to survive circulated through news and social media across the U.S. and around the world.
“We are mourning her absence here in the flesh but celebrate her victory in eternity, knowing that we will see her again someday,” her family said in her obituary.
“Until that day comes, we will cherish the memories, and will continue loving her BIGGER than Poppa’s trees and FARTHER than Heaven and back.”
“Our prayer to honor her memory is that we all remain united. We are not just strong; we are #LilyStrong.”
Lily swam in the Brazos River and Lake Whitney over the Labor Day weekend and then came down with a headache and a fever after swimming in a pool the next weekend.
Her health quickly deteriorated.
She was taken first to a local hospital and then was transferred to Cook Children’s Hospital in Fort Worth where she died Sunday night, surrounded by family members.
“Words cannot begin to express how overwhelming this past week has been for our family. We have been flooded by your love and support and feel incredibly humbled by how many lives have been impacted by our sweet and sassy, Lily Mae,” the girl’s family said in a statement Monday after Lily died.
“Lily changed lives. Lily saved lives (in the physical and spiritual sense). She brought unity to a divided nation. Which, is just like her! She loved everyone she came in contact with, and we see you all felt that, via news reports or social media. She taught us so much more in her ten years than we ever taught her,” the family said.
"Our faith in God has only been made stronger because of each of you. We may never understand why certain things happen here on earth, but we know God never left our sides. He has been right beside us and will continue to be our strength and see us through this," the family said.
Accounts have been set up at the First National Bank of Whitney and all three branches of the First National Bank of Bosque County for donations in memory of Lily Mae Avant.
Proceeds from the sale of #LilyStrong T-shirts will also go to the family.
Lily wasn’t far from the thoughts of her teachers and classmates at Valley Mills Elementary School and the word of her death left the small district “deeply saddened,” Valley Mills Superintendent Mike Kelly said during a news conference Monday.
“Lily was an absolute blessing to our elementary school,” he said.
“She was an outstanding student, but more importantly, Lily was an incredible person and friend to all. She was loving, kind, respectful and had a beautiful heart.”
“This campus and community are beyond blessed for the time we share with our Lily.”
“The family’s courage, strength and unwavering faith is a true inspiration to not only our community, but to all who have been following Lily’s story,” Kelly said.
The district will have grief counselors on campus for students and staff for the remainder of the week.
“Valley Mills ISD is a close-knit group, so this loss will impact many,” Kelly said.
The Texas Department of State Health Services confirmed the girl had primary amoebic meningoencephalitis, a brain infection caused by the so-called brain-eating amoeba Naegleria fowleri, which is typically found in fresh water bodies such as ponds, lakes and rivers.
The first symptoms of the infection typically appear about a week after the amoeba enters the nose.