BEACON FALLS — The community is rallying to support the family of a 7-year-old cheerleader who died unexpectedly Saturday evening.
Alyssa L. Fitzpatrick was a second-grader at Laurel Ledge Elementary School.
“She just made everybody laugh,” said Dennis Fitzpatrick, Alyssa’s grandfather.
Alyssa was in a wedding Friday, then a cheerleading competition Saturday. She came home, went outside to play, then came in for a nap. When her mother went to check on her, the girl was dead, Dennis Fitzpatrick said. He said she was rushed to Waterbury Hospital where doctors worked to revive her for almost four hours.
“They did not want to give up,” he said.
The cause of her death is pending further studies, according to the state office of the Chief Medical Examiner. A report could take around four weeks.
“Not knowing makes it worse than anything. Seven-year-old girls don’t just die,” Dennis Fitzpatrick said.
He said Alyssa’s death has been hard for the family to grasp.
“It’s just like a nightmare. We’re just expecting her to walk through the door any second,” Dennis Fitzpatrick said.
Alyssa cheered for her 10-year-old brother’s football team with the Seymour Pop Warner Mitey Mites. She also has a 2-year-old brother.
Dennis Fitzpatrick said Alyssa spent every Friday night with him. When she came back from competitions, she’d spend hours doing the routines of all her competitors.
“It made her happy, so it made us happy,” Dennis Fitzpatrick said.
Since Alyssa’s death, Dennis Fitzpatrick said the community has stepped up to help the grieving family.
“We can’t even begin to thank the people who are doing all this,” Dennis Fitzpatrick said.
Friends are hosting a benefit ziti dinner at the Crystal Room in Naugatuck from 5 to 7 p.m. Oct. 19. Tickets are $15 per adult and $10 per child and will be sold at the Beacon Falls Library, Beacon Falls Pharmacy or by contacting Ann Cook at 570-241-1587 or Nicole Barksdale at 203-231-5220.
Dennis Fitzpatrick said Pop Warner is planning to dedicate this weekend’s competition to Alyssa and the family moved her funeral date up so they could attend. Other Pop Warner teams are also organizing benefits and remembrances, including a bake sale at 12U and flag games on Sunday to benefit the family.
“We know that would just make her so happy,” Dennis Fitzpatrick said.
Region 16 Superintendent of Schools Michael Yamin said he was in touch with local emergency personnel when Alyssa died Saturday night and Laurel Ledge Principal Regina Murzak wrote an email to staff Sunday.
“She was a wonderful child. We enjoyed having her here and we’ll miss her,” Murzak said.
The district called in the school psychologist on Sunday and coordinated a crisis team to respond.
Alyssa’s mother is a bus driver for Region 16.
In a letter to the community, school leaders included suggestions on how to handle crisis. The school faculty, which had the day off Monday for Columbus Day, came in an hour early for a meeting with school social workers and councilors Tuesday.
“We knew we had to address it right away,” Yamin said. “You’re never going to be able to help them when you have a tragedy like this, but what you can do is put the supports in place to comfort them.”
Mike Gargano, President of Seymour Pop Warner, said the cheer organization is taking donations. Donations can also be sent through the website GoFundMe at www.gofundme.com/p5t6qm-alyssa-fitzpatrick.
The young cheerleaders did not participate in a scheduled game Sunday, the day after Fitzpatrick’s death. Gargano said Pop Warner leaders were planning to meet Tuesday night to determine whether to compete in a state cheer competition Sunday.