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Hundreds gather for funeral of girl killed in Junior Lifeguard accident

July 21, 2009 | 12:59 pm

Hundreds of people gathered at Saddleback Church in Lake Forest this morning to celebrate the life of Allyssa Squirrell, the 11-year-old girl who died last week in Huntington Beach after she was hit by boat propellers during a Junior Lifeguard training exercise.

Inside the church, friends used colored markers to write notes to Allyssa on construction paper.

In a lavender memorial program with a photo of Alyssa smiling on the cover, the Squirrell family wrote of a girl who was excited about starting sixth grade, loved writing songs and "was always ready to hit the surf."

"She was having the best summer as a Huntington Beach Junior Lifeguard," the family wrote. "She adored the program, loved the structure and would challenge herself daily to be the best she could be."

The accident occurred when Allyssa was participating in a training exercise known as a speed drop, in which junior lifeguards drop into the water off a moving rescue boat. She was struck by propellers when the boat circled around to pick up the swimmers, and she later died in surgery. It was the first fatal accident since the Junior Lifeguard program began in 1964. The accident is being reviewed by the Orange County Sheriff's Harbor Patrol.

Ellen Hayami, 14, of Huntington Beach, was one of many junior lifeguards who attended the service. She arrived from a morning training session, barefoot and in her uniform red shorts and white T-shirt.

Hayami, who has been in the program six years, said the speed drop is a rite of passage for all junior lifeguards. She said she didn't know Allyssa but was sure she had been looking forward to being in the ocean that day.

-- My-Thuan Tran in Lake Forest