‘She touched so many hearts:’ Residents mourn after area girl’s death

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VALLEY MILLS, Texas (KWTX) The Valley Mills community continues to mourn, and find ways to cope with, the passing of Lily Avant, a fifth-grader at Valley Mills Elementary School who passed away at Cook Children's Hospital in Forth Worth early Monday morning after she lost the fight with a rare infection that attacked her brain.

The Valley Mills community mourns the loss of Lily Avant at Santa Fe Park Tuesday night at a remembrance ceremony in her honor. (Photo by Rissa Shaw)

Some of the parents of her classmates organized a public service at Santa Fe Park Tuesday night to remember Lily, 10, of Laguna Park, and pray for her family.

"It's heartbreaking," said Stephanie Valdez who co-organized the event.

Lily swam in the Brazos River and Lake Whitney over Labor Day weekend, then came down with a headache and a fever after swimming in a pool the next weekend.

Her health quickly deteriorated.

The Texas Department of State Health Services confirmed she 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.

"More than 40 people went swimming that day...it just happened to be Lily...it's a scary feeling," said Valdez.

Valdez, whose daughter Aubrey is in Lily's class, says they wanted to bring people together the way Lily did.

"I would want someone to do it for me," said Valdez. "It's been tough, but when you're a mother of a ten-year-old and it's her best friend, you want to show them that you got to stay strong, you got to stay strong."

Lily Strong.

"She touched so many hearts, she made everyone smile, she was never sad," said classmate Madison Flores, 12.

She might not have ever been sad, but thousands across Central Texas--and the world--are.

Her friends were at school when they were told Lily didn't make it.

"Our counselor said 'our Lily has passed away and she's in a better place,' and that's when everyone started crying and you could tell everyone was missing her," said classmate Ryann Adams, 10. "We couldn't believe it."

Friends say they'll remember Lily for her strength and kindness.

"I came here last year, no one was talking to me," said Adams. "I was walking around the track and she said my name--Lily said 'do you want to be my friend?'"

Signs and blue ribbons in Lily's honor can be found all around town.

People wore blue and blew bubbles for Lily at the ceremony in the park Tuesday night.

"She's just an amazing person," said Flores.

Flores had a message for Lily's family.

"They've raised an amazing girl," she said.

After a pastor said a prayer, the crowd blew bubbles, sang Amazing Grace, then listened to Lily's favorite country song "Crazy Beautiful" by Luke Combs.

The family wasn't present, but Valdez said they wanted them to know there's still good in the world.

"We love y'all, we're praying for y'all, and we're sorry," said Valdez.

Lily's funeral service will be 1 p.m. Friday at the Open Range Cowboy Church at 582 FM 1713 in Whitney with a private graveside service to follow.