MARTINEZ -- On a day so blue with sadness that school officials called it one of the worst they could remember, students at Martinez Junior High School found a way to honor the bright spirit of an eighth-grade schoolmate killed Sunday by a train.

In memory of 14-year-old Jenna Betti, they wore pink.

"It was her favorite color," Rami Muth, the superintendent for the Martinez Unified School District, said Monday. "It's just something they wanted to do."

The tribute for Jenna came a day after authorities said she was struck by a train around 5 p.m. on BNSF Railway tracks just east of Old Orchard and Howe roads. Her identity was confirmed Monday by the Contra Costa Coroner's Office.

BNSF Railway spokeswoman Lena Kent said the train was made up of five locomotives with no freight cars. Jenna and another person were on the tracks when the train came around a corner. The train's conductor sounded a whistle, and the two moved off the tracks, she said.

"The girl went back onto the tracks," Kent said. "Why, we don't know yet."

Several witnesses and sources familiar with the initial investigation said Jenna may have been retrieving her phone.

The collision happened on tracks that were about a half-mile away from the nearest railroad crossing on Morello Avenue, and Kent said the two would have had to hike a distance to get to the tracks. It was not known immediately why Jenna and the other person were on the tracks, but Kent said the tracks are considered property of the railroad and that it was not legal for anyone to be there.


Advertisement

On Monday, neighbors of Jenna's family mourned her loss, along with her classmates and teachers at Martinez Junior High School.

"The thing I can tell you about Jenna is that I always saw her in front of the house playing in the street with her sisters or with other kids," said Amanda Malmborg, who lives across the street from the family. "She always had a smile, and she was very kind to everybody."

Students at the middle school urged each other through social media to wear pink as news of the tragedy began to spread Sunday night. When classes began Monday, flags at the school were at half-staff and grief counselors were brought in to help students. A candlelight vigil for Jenna is slated for 6:30 p.m. Tuesday in the commons at her school. Students were informed of Jenna's death during a first-period announcement by Principal Jonathan Eagan.

"Quite frankly, it's just a shock to the whole school," Eagan said, adding that the turn of events is "an an awful, awful situation."

Eagan said many of the students learned of Jenna's death through Facebook, Twitter and other social media outlets, and the hashtag #pinkforjenna had generated dozens of posts by Monday afternoon.

"Heaven really just received the most beautiful girl ever," one of the posts said.

Still, the school proceeded with the assumption that at least half the student body was unaware.

"One of the concerns is that probably half of our students don't have social media, so they were completely unaware when they arrived on campus," Eagan said. "We're doing everything we can to respect those students and their parents, and that's why we made an announcement. We'll get through this time the best we can."

Jenna was an emerging soccer star and one of the top players on her traveling club team, Eagan said. She also was a "vivacious girl, always smiling," he said.

It was a description seconded by others. Malmborg added: "She was just the sweetest all-American girl."

Contact Rick Hurd at 925-945-4789 and follow him at Twitter.com/3rdERH.