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'Free spirit' | Friends, coaches remember Jenna Hewitt

The 15-year-old's closest friends and coaches talked exclusively with NBC Charlotte about honoring her life and legacy.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — It's been almost a month since a horrific crime in south Charlotte stunned the community.

Jenna Hewitt, 15, was killed in a double murder-suicide at a home near Providence Country Club. The Ardrey Kell sophomore was shot during a sleepover.

The gunman broke into the home, killing Hewitt and her friend's father before turning the gun on himself.

Hewitt's closest friends and coaches talked exclusively with NBC Charlotte about their devastating loss. And as they remember her life and legacy, they also want to make an impact on others with her as their inspiration.

"She was the sweet, kind, beautiful girl," said Heather Madrzykowski, Hewitt's field hockey coach.

"Free spirit," added Samantha Casey, Hewitt's junior swim teammate.

"I love her so much," said Jenna Morris, a senior swimmer. "We had like sorority bigs and littles, and she was my little."

"She's kinda like another sister to me," Casey said. "I've known Jenna a long time. She lives in my neighborhood." 

As you can tell, it's hard for Hewitt's teammates and coaches to talk about her in past tense.

"She has a...she had a big heart," said Patti Lopez, Hewitt's field hockey coach.

Those closest to the teen are speaking out for the first time about the void she left behind.

"I miss her all the time," Morris said.

"To see her grow as a swimmer over the last 10 years has been really special," said William Keith, Hewitt's swim coach. "I think she was a much better swimmer than she ever gave herself credit for."

Keith has coached Hewitt in the pool since she was 5-years-old. 

"She was never going to be somebody that gave excuses or reasons why she couldn't do things. It was, I'm going to do whatever it takes," Keith said.

"Perseverance came up immediately and selflessness," Heather Madrzykowski said. "She was voted our most improved player her first year out."

Madrzykowski and Patti Lopez are field hockey coaches. Hewitt made a big impression on them in just two years. 

"She just she took off and ran with it," Lopez said.

"She was a natural; she just has natural athletic ability," said Madrzykowski. "We miss her; we miss her so much."

Hewitt gave her all to swimming and field hockey -- while dealing with scoliosis.

"She would fight through the pain and try to just get tougher every day," said Madrzykowski. 

It wasn't all work and no play though. Hewitt knew how to let loose and have a little fun. 

"She was a big Harry Potter fan," said Casey. "I’m pretty sure there wasn’t a weekend that she didn’t have like a Harry Potter marathon."

"I remember the last gift that I got her was cat slippers. She loves cats," Morris said. "She texted me a picture of her showing her mom saying, look I’m the cat lady now."

Hewitt's family and friends are still trying to come to grips with her death.

"When I did find out, it was just like devastation," Morris said.

"I knew she was staying at a friend's house in the same neighborhood. and all these thoughts come into your head like, is it her?" said Casey.

"What was that like when you found out it was her?" asked NBC Charlotte's Sarah French.

"We were all like in shock; it's just so hard to believe that," Casey answered. "It's just so close to home that you can't imagine that it's true at first."

"You just never think it'll be someone you spent so much time with six days a week practicing you never think they'll be gone," said Sidney Helms, senior swimmer and team captain.

"It was like the world stopped. None of us wanted to believe it," Madrzykowski said. "There's really no words you can say."

And so they leaned on each other, knowing their lives would never be the same. Casey took some advice from a coach.

"A lot of bad things will happen, but it's how you get through them, and you have a team there to help you get through them," said Casey.

As they began to mourn, a phrase emerged honoring their friend and teammate.

"Someone was just like, "Fly high, Jenna,' and that just kinda stuck," Helms said.

"What do you want people to know about her?" French asked.

"She's just someone who's so comfortable in her own skin, and that's something I admire her for I'll never forget," Helms answered.

"A light to so many she met," Morris added.

Even at her funeral, Hewitt's light was still shining brightly.

"The song at the end was very touching; it was 'You Are My Sunshine,'" said Madrzykowski. "She really truly was this kind sweet person that was never hurtful ever."

"She faced some challenges in her life, and I think some of it is that we hope now she is comfortable and free and able to embrace herself and no longer in pain," Helms added.

Hewitt's teammates are raising money to put a garden in her name on the Ardrey Kell campus.

"This is a great way for us to have a place where we all know we can still be with her when we want to," said Keith. "She was really loved by her community, and I hope that's something we can continue to share with the world."

T-shirts are being sold for the project, and any extra money raised will go toward the Hands for Holly Memorial Fund. 

"She didn’t want to let anybody down, and so we kinda immediately took that from the sadness of the moment to try and make sure we were not going to let her legacy down," Keith said.

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