GARDINER — Tabytha Hembree was remembered as a talented, athletic, smart and strong girl Friday night during a candlelight vigil on the Gardiner Area High School soccer field, where she had starred as the starting goalie for the Tigers.

More than 1,000 people, including classmates, teachers and school officials, gathered under a chilly evening sky to honor Hembree, 16, who died Friday morning from injuries she suffered in a crash on her way to school Thursday morning.

“Tonight is certainly a symbol of the strength this community has for each other,” Principal Chad Kempton said. “She was such a well-rounded, positive young lady, and she was the whole package.”

Before the vigil began, Hembree’s teammates and coaches from the girls’ soccer team hung a banner on the goal that said, “In Loving Memory” and “Team Taby.” During the vigil, with their coach, Jolaine Galibois-Barss, behind them, several team members spoke about the love they have for their teammate and how they’ll be playing for Hembree this season.

“There was not one person on this team that Taby didn’t have an impact on,” one player said while crying. “She was one of the strongest girls I’ve ever met and she had the most vibrant personality.”

Another said it was important for people to know that not one of the soccer players will be alone through the grieving process.

“She was one of my best friends, and coming to the field and not seeing her is hard,” another teammate said.

As the vigil was coming to a close, two of Hembree’s aunts went to the microphone to thank everyone for coming out to honor and remember their niece. One of them was on the phone speaking with Hembree’s mother, Jennifer, telling her that the “soccer field was filled because everybody loved Taby.”

Science teacher Kyle Duca had Hembree as a freshman in class and remembered that she was often so consistently 15 to 30 seconds late to class that he invented “Taby Time” so she wouldn’t be late anymore. He also said Hembree broke down the fish species to either “Nemo fish or non-Nemo fish.” It was a moment that brought smiles, chuckles and laughter, and people could be overheard saying that laughter was needed during times like this.

Hembree suffered severe injuries in a crash on Route 27 when, police said, her Jeep pulled out in front of a dump truck hauling a tractor on a trailer at the Old Cedar Grove Road intersection. She was headed to school at about 6:45 a.m. Thursday with her brother, Alex Hembree, in the front passenger seat. Both Tabytha and Alex Hembree were wearing seat belts. Alex Hembree, 12, who attends Gardiner Regional Middle School, was expected to make a full recovery from his injuries suffered in the crash and might be released from the hospital Saturday.

In addition to a starting spot on the soccer team, the rising junior student-athlete known as “Taby” was a swimmer and musician, and she was active in the school’s drama club. She also trained at CrossFit Undaunted, a strength and conditioning facility on Leighton Road in Augusta.

Patricia Hopkins, superintendent of School Administrative District 11, the Gardiner area schools, said it was an emotional day at school Friday, with students learning early in the morning that Hembree had died.

“It brings up a lot of emotions for many of us from experiences we’ve all had in our lives,” Hopkins said. “It was emotional for everyone, but I was so impressed by the degree of support that students had and gave to each other.”

The high school will be open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, and counselors and staff members will be available to help students cope with Hembree’s death. The soccer team will hold a car wash to raise money for Hembree’s family from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday at the Gardiner Fire Station.

“One of the best things about this community is that we pull together and support each other when things happen,” Kempton said. “It’s a tight-knit community, and we care about each other and we care about our kids.

“She’s going to be missed,” he said.

Jason Pafundi — 621-5663

[email protected]

Twitter: @jasonpafundiKJ

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