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Hundreds celebrate memory of Petaluma teen

Kevin Byrne, Alyssa Byrne's father, welcomes family, friends and supporters to a memorial service Saturday for Alyssa at Casa Grande High School in Petaluma.

ALVIN JORNADA / For The Press Democrat
Published: Sunday, January 13, 2013 at 9:24 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 13, 2013 at 9:24 a.m.

Alyssa Byrne was remembered Saturday as a gifted athlete with a wisecracking wit and illuminating smile; a kid so fiercely competitive that she was kicked out of her final high school lacrosse game.

“She's probably picking a lacrosse fight up there right now,” her father Kevin Byrne told a crowd of hundreds that packed into the Casa Grande gymnasium Saturday to remember the 2011 graduate.

Alyssa Byrne, 19, was found dead Jan. 4 in South Lake Tahoe after apparently taking a wrong turn while walking alone in subzero temperatures from a New Year's music festival.

Kevin Byrne, who repeatedly thanked the community for their support both during the search for his missing daughter and in the days after her body was found, urged people to look out for each other and always maintain a buddy system.

Friend Ashley Jones addressed the crowd, many of whom were wearing pink in Byrne's honor, and asked everyone to raise their right hand and repeat after her: “I promise to never let myself or anyone I love leave in an unfamiliar place without a buddy system.”

Mariah Harvey, a childhood friend, wrestled aloud with the the question that seemed to be on the minds of many.

“How could this happen to this girl who was so happy and full of life?” she said through tears.

Michelle Miller, Byrne's first-grade teacher at Bernard Eldredge Elementary School, stood with her colleagues who taught Byrne in kindergarten through sixth grades. Miller recalled the “firecracker” with an ever-present backward baseball cap who so revered her older brother Greg as a youngster that she often dressed in his clothes.

“We never ever, ever, ever saw her in a dress until sixth grade promotion,” Miller said.

If there was a ball, she was bouncing it. If there was a game, she was in it. And, occasionally, if there was a wrestling match or dust-up, she might have started it, friends recalled.

“Remember when she hit herself in the head with a baseball bat?” said her brother, Greg Byrne. “She told our friends that I did it. No. For the record, I did not.”

Teammates and coaches recalled a gifted ball player who played baseball on boys teams until she was 14 before deciding to focus on softball.

Basketball coach Joe Enes said he was often bemused by Byrne's insistence on calling him “Joseph” and saying good-bye with a “Peace out” or “See you on the flipside, Joseph.”

“As a coach, she gave me everything you asked and more. And she hated to lose,” he said.

But friend after friend said Byrne's fire burned from a warm heart.

“Her fuse was short and her blast was big but when the dust settled there was always love,” said Kevin Byrne.

“If you knew her for even a second ... you knew she was 110 miles an hour all the time,” he said.

Byrne told the crowd that he continues to struggle with the question of “Why?”

Using an analogy from his daughter's beloved sport, Byrne said he was told recently that Alyssa got to hear from God the four words any big time ball player yearns to hear: “I'm calling you up.”

In addition to her father and brother, Alyssa Byrne is survived by her mother Kim Miller-Byrne.

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