They remember girl with 'fire inside'

Kayria Pride, 10, drowned off Clearwater Beach Sunday night, most likely the victim of powerful currents that pulled her into deep water. On Monday, a group of family and friends gathered at her home to mourn.

Published May 8, 2007

CLEARWATER BEACH - Kayria Pride memorized Psalms for fun and nursed a wounded dove back to health. She was just 10 years old, but knew enough history that she named a kitten she rescued from the street Marcus, after black activist Marcus Garvey.

Kayria drowned off Clearwater Beach Sunday night, most likely the victim of powerful currents that pulled her into deep water. On Monday, a group of family and friends gathered at her home to mourn.

"She was a wonderful little girl, " said Garvin Harris, 33, Kayria's stepfather. "Whenever I looked into her eyes, I could see the fire inside her."

Rescuers managed to save two other children who had been playing in the water with Kayria: her brother Kajerrell, 15, and her cousin Marion Mulkey, 9.

Kayria, whom her relatives called "Niya, " went to the beach Sunday with two brothers and a cousin. Her mother, grandmother and two other family friends came with the children. The family regularly takes weekend trips to local beaches, and arrived at Clearwater Beach around 6 p.m., according to Kayria's grandmother Kaleatha Jackson, 47.

Kayria, her brother and her cousin soon began playing in the water. They were close to the shore; Marion was reluctant to go out too far because he wasn't a good swimmer, relatives said. Kayria's stepfather said his daughter could swim, though she was no expert.

Trycina Jackson, 35, Kayria's aunt and Marion's mother, said her son told her that the tide suddenly grew powerful, and pulled the children back into the water. The children began screaming, and people on shore dove into the water after them. The authorities were called around 6:45 p.m.

Kayria's brother and cousin were rescued, but the search for her went on. Just before 7:30, thunderstorms forced the Coast Guard to take over the search from Clearwater Fire and Rescue.

It wasn't until 8:45, with the sun down and the beach empty of swimmers, that Kayria was found. A tourist on the beach saw her floating close to shore, but mistook her for driftwood until he saw her green bathing suit.

Ellie Elmore, a 30-year-old teacher from New Port Richey, ran up as Kayria's body was recovered. As a fire rescue worker did chest compressions, Elmore, who had been praying on shore with fellow members of a singles group from Calvary Baptist Church in Clearwater, breathed air into Kayria's mouth.

Elmore took off her sweatshirt to wipe the girl's face.

"She had sand and seaweed all over her face and her hair, " Elmore recalls. "I just as gently as I could brushed her face. She was actually beautiful."

On Monday, Elmore and other church members came to visit Kayria's family in Coquina Key. Elmore hugged Kayria's mother, Kashika Pride, 32, who was too grief-stricken to speak.

Elmore said the church would help the family with its funeral expenses.

"I just remember her eyes, " she said Monday. "She had these beautiful big eyes."

While some storms formed Sunday evening, meteorologists say even sunny, breezy days can yield wind speeds high enough to generate dangerous currents.

"It doesn't take long, " said Charles Paxton, a science and operations officer with the National Weather Service. "Kids get out in waves and are pulled into deeper water."

Although conditions didn't favor the formation of more dangerous rip currents at area beaches Sunday, strong currents can form near piers and jetties, Paxton said.

Police said all three children had been swimming just north of the jetty.

Kayria comes from a big family that adheres to the Rastafarian faith. As they gathered, relatives shared stories about her accomplishments: her love of math, her talent in tennis, her regular presence on the honor roll at the Christian school she attended. She had just won a tiara for placing in the top 10 in her age group in a Ms. Tampa competition.

As he walked into Kayria's bedroom, which was decorated with a Minnie Mouse photo, the word "Princess" and a big stack of books, Kayria's stepfather shook his head and sat down on her tiny bed.

"She was very spiritual, " he said. "She loved her creator."

Times researcher Cathy Wos contributed to this report.