Why? How could this happen? Is it possible that she only had a sore throat less than three weeks ago and now she is gone?
There were more questions and few answers, only that a form of blood poisoning – sepsis – killed 16-year-old Gianna Cirella. The Toll Gate student and a member of the girls soccer team died Wednesday night after a brief but concentrated effort to save her.
The staff at Hasbro Children’s Hospital were not the only ones behind her. The community rallied for Gianna. There were prayers, words and photos on social media, a Facebook page – Gistrong – was created and followed by nearly 3,000 people. More than $80,000 was raised on a GoFundMe account to help with her medical bills.
On Friday night the community came together again to say goodbye to Gianna at a candlelight vigil at St. Gregory the Great Church in Cowesett. Purple – Gianna’s favorite color – was the color of the night. Purple balloons were tied to the church step railings. Many of the more than 500 in attendance wore purple T-shirts with “Cirella Strong” across the front, and her jersey number, 12, on the back. People hugged, held hands and fought back tears.
Team coach Lonna Razza talked with the news media outside as people streamed into the church. Razza said Gianna came a long way as a player but it was not her skill on the field that she’ll remember most. Rather, it was Gianna’s interest in others.
“Like, I’d see her and she’d say, ‘hey Razza, hey coach’…she was always asking, ‘how you doing?’” Razza said Gianna had “a compassion” for others. She felt certain that there would be a lasting tribute to Gianna beyond the rock at the entrance to the Toll Gate educational complex painted purple by students Thursday, perhaps a scholarship fund in her memory.
Celebrant Father David Ricard opened the service with a moment of silence and prayer for Gianna. Looking out at a church filled with so many young people on a Friday night, he spoke of their lives and how they should be filled with laughter and “doing all the things you should do.” He sought to answer the questions why Gianna has left this world, turning to Scripture and focusing on what Gianna gave her family, her friends, classmates and the community.
“You brought the love of God and made it a reality,” he said. But, likewise, he recognized it is not always easy.
“Sometimes life is more than you can take,” he said. “We are here to thank God for the wonderful treasure he gave us.”
Gianna’s battle to live was foremost in the minds of many, even as the state was hit by a fierce wind and rainstorm that left 154,000 National Grid customers without power. Mayor Scott Avedisian was kept in the loop, informed that Gianna’s condition had further deteriorated on Tuesday night. He talked with Toll Gate principal Candace Caluori Wednesday morning and, while the school was closed due to the lack of power, spoke of how the situation could be handled.
“Even as so many in our community have been reeling from the suddenness with which she was stricken, the tremendous outpouring of support for Gianna and her family in recent weeks has been a testament to how deeply she was loved,” Avedisian said in a statement after learning of Cirella’s passing. “It is clear that her bright, warm personality drew many to this beautiful and engaging young lady, and I know that the positive impact she had on people will be carried in their hearts forever.”
Gianna is survived by her parents, Stanley and Tara Cirella, and a younger sister, Cassie, a freshman and a member of the girls soccer team.
Her funeral service will be held this morning at 8:30 a.m. at Thomas & Walter Quinn Funeral Home, 2435 Warwick Ave., Warwick, with a Mass of Christian Burial at 10 a.m. in St. Kevin Church, Sandy Lane. Burial will be in Quidnessett Memorial Cemetery, North Kingstown. In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions to coach Lonna Razza, 575 Centerville Rd., Warwick, RI 02886 would be appreciated.
Andrew Ekroth was the first to speak from a group of friends who were joined by Gianna’s mother, Tara, at the altar. They spoke of how Gianna touched them, how she will be missed, how she will be remembered and what they learned from her. Jack Howe said he is honored to be called Gianna’s best friend and when he visited her in the hospital she told him she would never leave him.
Gianna’s mother lent support to the friends, hugging Elsie Saccoccia as she fought back sobs and sought to speak. She spoke of their car rides and how “you never know when the last time is going to be the last time…the worst things happen to the best people.”
Tara spoke of the pain of losing a child, how Gianna was only good [at soccer] “because she gave it everything she had” and of the support she and the family have received from so many. “This is not strength,” she said, “this is sheer love…I can never thank you all…I love you all.”
Father Ricard thanked those who spoke for sharing their thoughts and love for Gianna, adding to a ripple of welcome laughter that from now on they will be no longer thinking of Tom Brady when they see the number 12 but Gianna. Following the service, teammates and friends gathered to hug one another and the Cirellas. Then, slowly, the church emptied, only for everyone to come together again, candles lit outside, silently waiting for the team and the family to leave.