NEW PALESTINE — Early Monday morning, just as the sun was coming up, a large group of students stood together around the flagpole in front of New Palestine High School.
They gathered for a quick vigil before heading to class, their first day back after a two-week spring break, stopping to pay their respects for one who was missing.
Freshman Abigail Rejer, 15, daughter of Richard and Kristi Rejer, died unexpectedly Thursday.
Her family called 911 after finding Abby unresponsive in their home, and investigators say they are baffled by her passing, noting she had no known medical conditions. An autopsy came back inconclusive, they said.
Abby’s parents told police she’d gone to bed Wednesday night and seemed fine; they had no reason to check on her before heading to work the next morning.
When they returned home at the end of the day, they found Abby wasn’t breathing.
Medics were unable to revive the girl, who teachers say was an excellent student who was actively involved in music and local volunteer efforts.
Police arrived a few minutes later to investigate, though they found no evidence to suggest how Abby died.
The case remains under investigation, Hancock County Sheriff’s Detective Tim Cicenas said. Toxicology reports – which are sought when someone’s cause of death is unclear – are expected to be returned in the next month; officials hope they can then make a final determination about what happened to the girl.
“It’s just heartbreaking,” Cicenas said.
Abby excelled academically and was always busy; she played the French horn in the school’s concert and pep bands — along with the piano, ukulele and guitar for fun. She liked to volunteer at the Hancock County Public Library and was a big animal-lover, friends said.
“She was a star,” high school principal Keith Fessler said, as he headed into work Monday, making his way past the crowd of pupils that had stopped to mourn together. “She was just one of those fantastic kids.”
Shawn Humphries, the high school’s band instructor, said he saw something special in Abby. He first started teaching her music while she was a student at Doe Creek Middle School and continued those lessons when she came to the high school.
Abby was a quiet student, but she showed an ability to connect with her teachers and her lessons in a way that many admired, Humphries said.
“She was just super bright, very attentive,” he said. “In a room of 50, you’ve got maybe two or three students who are just right there, and she was one of them.”
School officials put a crisis team in place Monday, making counselors and clergy available to students as they returned to school. Those counselors will remain on hand throughout the week, helping everyone who knew Abby deal with their grief.
Many – students and staff alike – were still in shock as they entered the building Monday, Fessler said. He learned of Abby’s death Thursday afternoon and immediately called her teachers, who were devastated to hear she had passed.
“There is no script or playbook on how to deal with this kind of thing,” Fessler said. “It’s crushing.”
Caitlin VanOverberghe contributed to this report.