John Carroll School wept Friday.
Students, faculty, family and friends poured out their grief at a memorial service for Nita Milak, a 16-year-old junior whose body was found Nov. 25 on a remote stretch in Level in what police call a suspicious death.
As her parents sat in the front row of the school auditorium, the entire junior class walked slowly across the stage, placing flower petals in glass bowls on tables at center stage.
Incense burned, and traditional Hindu music played.
Then, one by one, friends of Nita, who was Hindu, offered readings and recollections of the girl with the radiant smile and flashing, dark eyes.
And once again, they pondered questions nobody has answered: Was their classmate an accident victim, or was she murdered on the little-traveled Wilkinson Road, as persistent rumors have it?
"Nita's death is difficult to accept because there is no closure," said Robert Garbacik, John Carroll principal.
"Our students have run the gamut of emotion this week. It began with shock, turned to sadness and today became anger. They are angry because they want an answer to how and why their friend died."
Mr. Garbacik said a Mass was celebrated for Nita soon after students arrived at school Monday, and counselors, clergy and teachers met with students individually and in groups.
Police said they are awaiting an autopsy report from the state medical examiner's office and a report from state police, who are searching the victim's vehicle for clues, said Deputy DeWayne Curry of the Harford County Sheriff's Office.
Investigators said Nita's 1990 Jeep Wagoneer was backed into a tree about 60 feet from where she was found.
Police initially listed her death as a fatal accident involving a motor vehicle, but last week reclassified it as suspicious after undisclosed evidence prompted traffic investigators to turn the case over to criminal investigators.
Friday, though, the students focused less on the death than on the life of a girl who had touched so many of them.
Julie Baummer, a junior at the Catholic high school in Bel Air, recalled how she approached her friend about attending a meeting for The Pinnacle, the school's literary publication.
"By the time we got to the room, the meeting had begun, and I got cold feet," Julie said.
"Nita gave me one big shove, and there I was inside the room, attempting to explain my entrance. Nita was behind me, laughing."
Heather Lizut, editor of The Pinnacle, said this year's edition will be dedicated to Nita.
Students Shivi Rastogi and Portia Harris read a series of prayers, first in Hindu, then in English.
The service closed with a song, "We Will Rise Again," and students congregated in the hallway outside the auditorium.
There, they embraced, many of them in tears.
After the service, Nita's homeroom teacher, Donna Selway, said, "If I could design the perfect teen-age girl, I would use her as the model."
Cross-country coach Bernie Mullin said that though Nita lacked the skills to be a standout performer, she gave the team a positive spirit, and when she had a good run, everybody rejoiced.
"She set the tone for our team," said Mr. Mullin. "She was happy just being part of the team."
Sister Gerry Kent, a religion teacher, called Nita the most active student in the school's Outreach Ministry.
"She just couldn't say no," the nun said. "She was always willing to see what she could do. She extended herself to everyone. No matter what we were doing or where we were going, she would be there."
Like Nita's classmates, residents in the neighborhood where her body was found remained baffled by her mysterious death.
Lin Van Name, who lives near Deer Park Court and Wilkinson Road, discovered Nita's body after her dog "starting raising a ruckus."
"I went outside to quiet the dog but couldn't," she said. "The hair on the back of his neck was up. I noticed a car against a tree."
After finding Nita, unconscious, she called 911, then returned to give first aid but "there was very little I could do," she said. She said she saw no one leaving the scene.
Nita had suffered serious head injuries and was in cardiac arrest, police said.
She was taken to Harford Memorial Hospital in Havre de Grace by ambulance, then to the Maryland Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore, where she died at 7:43 p.m. Nov. 25.
Nita was the second John Carroll student to die in a year. In January, Michael Brady, a senior, was killed in a car accident.