Steve Pruitt heard Tuesday morning that a Lakeside High School freshman had died Monday, but he didn't know who.
A photo of Chelsea Collins sits on her xylophone in the band room at Lakeside High School as students in her former first-period class practice. Chelsea died Monday after becoming ill during a physical education class.
Photo by Jim Blaylock
The Riverside Middle School music teacher discovered it was his former pupil, 14-year-old Chelsea Collins.
"I just happened to check my e-mail between my first- and second-period class," Pruitt said.
"That's when I saw it was Chelsea. I had to stand outside my door for about 10 minutes before I could get myself together and teach that day."
Chelsea died Monday afternoon at Doctors Hospital after a sixth-period physical education class.
Officials said the teenager walked half a lap around the school's track, then told her teacher she wasn't feeling well. Chelsea sat in a chair, but got worse. An ambulance took her to Doctors Hospital where she died soon after arrival.
An autopsy conducted Tuesday did not give a conclusive reason for Chelsea's death, Columbia County Deputy Coroner Vernon Collins said. A blood test will be conducted, but the result won't be known for at least three months, Collins said.
Pruitt recalls a happy girl, who made everyone around her feel better with a simple grin.
"The thing I remember the most is seeing her smile every day when she came into class, smile when you talked to her and smile when she would leave," he said. "That's good for a teacher. It changes the way you approach your class."
Lakeside's band plans to honor Chelsea's memory at this year's football games by dedicating the halftime shows in her memory. Pruitt wants to create an award, named for Chelsea, to give to a deserving music student each year.
"In middle school, with all the things going on around you, there are plenty reasons to get discouraged and she never let it happen," he said. "She stayed positive. I think that's worth remembering."
Chelsea played the xylophone as a Lakeside High Marching Band member, but she also played piano and the oboe, an instrument she took up as a sixth-grader under Pruitt's direction.
"I always tell my students at the beginning of school, 'There are three instruments I consider really challenging for the sixth grade. If you want to do them, you really need to be committed,'" Pruitt said.
"One of them happens to be oboe. She chose to play oboe and stuck with it all three years."
Lakeside High sophomore Shanta Gowda, 14, Chelsea's neighbor and a fellow oboe player, said she is sad that she won't get to perform with her friend of more than 10 years.
"I looked forward to Chelsea coming to Lakeside this year and playing the oboe with her in the second semester," Shantha said. "It's kind of sad to think she won't be there to play the oboe with me."
Miranda Sindelar and Jill Garner, both 14, started school with Chelsea as kindergartners.
"It's affecting me knowing I won't be able to hang out with her and see her in the morning when I come to school," Miranda said.
The freshman friends swam together, went to movies, sang songs and would often make up their own dances.
"Me and Miranda are probably still going to be friends and we might have sleep-overs and do those kind of things, but it will be kind of hard without Chelsea there," Jill said.
Although Chelsea is gone, Jill said she is confident in her friend's destination.
"Chelsea was a really strong Christian," she said. "We all know she's in heaven right now."
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