IRVINE — Silkscreened on their matching green T-shirts was a photo of their friend at a birthday party. It was taken just hours before a car crash that led to her untimely death.
Krista Merassa, Parisa Ghaemi and Alison Rivas, all 15, wore the shirts in memoriam of Ashton Sweet as they stood together Monday afternoon in front of the packed, brightly lit Chinese Baptist Church of Center Orange County. A crowd of some 300 attendees, dressed in green and white, was with the trio at the memorial service for Sweet, the 14-year-old Irvine cheerleader killed in a May 29 car crash in Irvine.
The Chinese Baptist Church, selected for its proximity to Northwood High School, where Sweet attended, seemed fitting to celebrate her life. It's near the park where the high-schooler played as a child, said her mother, Elizabeth Sweet.
Those in attendance wore green to represent the teen's life and vitality. For the family, The color represented renewal, Elizabeth Sweet said.
Around the bottom of the stage, pink carnations, sunflowers, white roses and bright magenta stargazer lilies were in various arrangements. Near the large photo of Sweet was a heart-shaped yellow flowers collection.
Sweet was heading home from a birthday party May 29 with Merassa, Ghaemi, Rivas and a parent driver when their Mercedes-Benz was hit by a pickup truck. The crash left Sweet brain-dead and injured four others, including the driver, a father of a friend who picked the teenagers up.
Austin Farley, 26, was arrested after the incident and is accused of drunk driving. He has been charged with murder in connection with Sweet's death and is being held in lieu of $1 million bail.
Just before the service, a piano recording of "What a Friend We Have in Jesus" was played over the speakers as late-comers filed in. Most seats were filled about 30 minutes before the service.
As she stood at the podium lit with green, Ghaemi said her relationship with Sweet was like that of the Three Musketeers — the girls being inseparable over their summers spent together.
Grandparents from both sides of the girl's family read Scriptures, and those in attendance were asked to sing hymns. About 15 participated in the memory-sharing portion, recalling how the popular cheerleader and track athlete touched their lives, often made funny faces and cracked jokes at school.
"You always knew when Ashton was around," said classmate Cindy Harris. "You could hear her laugh for miles."
Sweet had wanted to attend culinary school and start a catering business, according to the services program. At Northwood, Sweet was a cheerleader and did the long jump in track.
She was remembered by her grandmother as a chatterbox, goofy, compassionate, competitive, bossy and a techie.
During his introductory prayer, Sweet's maternal grandfather, Dean Jordan, thanked God for the 14 years his granddaughter was with their family.
"You gave us a precious 14 years with Ashton," Jordan said. "Now her troubles are over."
While friends and classmates shared their memories, a common mantra was said several times throughout the service: Sweet's name defined her.