Seven-year-old Kaillen Wickman was called a "ray of sunshine." Her cheerleading coach says she was sweet, spunky and smiling every day. Her principal at Eliot Elementary School in southern Maine says she found her every day and gave her a hug. Now, her tight-knit school and cheering community is coming to terms with her sudden death.
"It's very tough," said cheering coach Danielle Estes. "This is a family."
Kaillen was one of the passengers in a boat that crashed on the Piscataqua River Saturday evening. Her grandfather, John Wickman, was the driver. Her 5-year-old brother, Mikey, and John's girlfriend, Laurie Stewart, 56, were also on the trip.
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Investigators say driver inattention may have caused the boat to hit a buoy near Frankfort Island by the Eliot boat launch.
Both Kaillen Wickman and Laurie Stewart died from their injuries. Mikey Wickman was taken to Boston Children's Hospital. His condition is not known. John Wickman was taken to a local hospital for a possible back injury.
"Tragedies do happen, and it hit our little town, unfortunately," said Roger Waugh, who was a next-door neighbor to John Wickman. He said the family was always doing activities together.
Waugh's 6-year-old son, Harry, was in the first grade with Kaillen.
"We explained it to Harry, and I don't think he quite grasps the gravity of it," he said. "It's something I didn't expect to bring up to my little kid so soon."
MSAD 35 Superintendent Mary Nash said the students have been able to speak to grief counselors, and were encouraged to share their memories of Kaillen and talk about their feelings at school this week.
"It's really hard to talk about losing a 7-year-old," Dr. Nash said. "Kaillen was a positive, respectful, kind soul."
Estes said her young cheerleaders at the Maine Stars Cheer Gym are heartbroken. They held a moment of silence for Kaillen Monday, and they shared happy memories of their teammate.
"She was just an all-around amazing kid," said Estes. "She had the spunk and drive to be better. And if you can get anything out of this, just live through her. Try to be like that."
Friends of Laurie Stewart said she was a recently retired postmaster, who "lived life to the fullest." In a Facebook post, the United Postmasters and Managers of America, Maine Chapter, wrote "She will be missed by all that knew her."
A GoFundMe page has been set up to help the Wickman family. It has raised more than $26,000 in one day.
The New Hampshire State Police and Marine Patrol continue to investigate the crash.