The Key West principal who committed suicide four days ago left her students with more questions than answers over her seemingly abrupt decision to leave this world by turning a rented handgun on herself at a public gun range in Broward County.
"I just wish I could tell her that I love her so much," said Naylen Gonzalez, 15, at a memorial service Sunday in Key West that students organized at a New Town church.
Through music, photographs and personal tributes, students at Key West Collegiate Academy said they wanted to celebrate the life of Adri Stewart, 30, who killed herself Dec. 26.
Stewart, who started as principal in August, was the last person her students would believe was suicidal. Sunday's service, quiet and dignified, still showed the raw shock that accompanied news of the woman's death in the Florida Keys.
"I just can't imagine that she is not here right now," said Robert Tallmadge, 16. "And I just wish I could have said, 'thank you,' before she passed away."
Students remembered a strong, confident leader who always had time to talk and worked long hours on developing new education strategies.
And they remembered last seeing her -- at the school's Christmas party held the day before winter break began -- smiling and expressing excitement about going home to see her family near Miami.
The service drew School Board members Andy Griffiths and Robin Smith-Martin; State Board of Education member John Padget; Superintendent Mark Porter and administrator Christina McPherson.
But the officials let the students, parents and charter school leaders speak and simply listened.
Classes resume Jan. 7 in Monroe County, and that includes the charter high school, Porter said Friday.
Several students took to the podium at the Impact Community Church on 5th Street to thank Stewart for her help in getting them on track academically.
Stewart was a single mother of three and the newly hired principal who parents and students believed would become the saving grace of the fledgling two-year old charter high school.
Before 2 p.m. Wednesday, Stewart killed herself with a handgun blast at a Pembroke Park gun range, where rentals start at $20. She left a note for her family that confirmed it was a suicide, the Broward County Sheriff's Office said.
Stewart last fall became the fourth principal to lead the school that had endured growing pains that included two principal resignations its first year.
Vivacious and confident in the public eye, Stewart was an instant hero to many of the students. In her short life, she had already been a teacher, guidance counselor, sports coach and principal.
"She turned this school around," said Andie Rose Roberts, who said Stewart was the best principal to run the charter school and an excellent Spanish teacher. "She was interactive and we didn't just learn from the textbook."
Roberts recalled meeting Stewart at the school. Stewart complimented the scarf that the Big Pine Key teen wore.
"She said to me, 'I have this idea. I want people to put scarves on my casket,'" a tearful Roberts said Sunday. "I wasn't expecting to give it to her so soon. I gave it to her daughter."
Kirsten Hoskins, 16, a junior at the school, rose to tell the crowd of about 50 people that she planned on graduating early.
"I don't think that would be possible without her help," Hoskins said of Stewart.
"She wanted us to become a family," said Damian Jones, 15, who wore a striped necktie and a composed gaze to the service. "She considered us as her second family."
A few speakers openly struggled over finding a reason behind her suicide."
"It certainly had nothing to do with all of you," said Todd German, chairman of the school's board of directors and a friend to Stewart. "She doted on you."
Key West Collegiate Academy will continue, said German, who helped bring in the Academica nonprofit charter school management company last year as the school hired an interim principal after forcing out the last two.
"The school will go on and, in some strange way, it may be stronger than ever," said German. "I challenge all of you to keep Adri in your heart."
Gonzalez, who dedicated a dance she performed Sunday to Stewart, said after the service, "We're never going to forget her."