SAN JOSE -- A few feet from where 14-year-old Danika Tyler Garcia was struck and killed by a light-rail train as she bicycled to school, a makeshift memorial sprouted Saturday, with flowers, candles and stuffed animals adorning a fence. Every so often, a train whizzed by, oblivious to the tears of Danika's family and friends who had gathered to mourn her death just a day before.
A bright red sign, declaring "We love U Danika," hung from the fence near Del Mar High School, where Danika was a shy freshman known for coloring her hair different ways and a passion for singing. Her older sister, sobbing at the scene, unable to talk about Danika's death, wrote on the sign: "My heart is broken."
Danika was killed Friday morning as she was riding her bike to Del Mar, struck by a northbound VTA train at the intersection of Stokes Street and Southwest Expressway. Del Mar students gathered for Saturday's vigil said Danika lost her life at a crossing they've always considered dangerous -- and that she paid the ultimate price for being in a hurry.
"She was on her way to school and tried to beat the train," said Lluvia, a Del Mar student who witnessed the accident. Like most students interviewed, she did not give her last name.
"Everybody tries to beat the train," she said. "She just got unlucky."
Dozens of students and family members arrived at the scene in Saturday's sunshine, hugging and weeping. A close friend of the family said close relatives were unable to talk about the accident because Danika's loss was too painful and fresh.
But her closest friends in the Del Mar choir shared stories of her love of music, noting that Danika never went anywhere without headphones to listen to music, walking along in trademark combat boots.
On the day Danika died, she was scheduled to sing for a Make-a-Wish fundraiser at the school, her own dream. She was supposed to sing "When I Was Your Man," by pop star Bruno Mars.
"She was very shy and (singing in the event) was breaking out for her," said Chloe, a choir friend.
Danika's friends described her as unique, outspoken and kind to everyone -- even students who didn't seem to like her much. Makayla, her close friend since middle school, noted that she was an avid San Francisco 49ers fan who didn't have the usual teen worries about trying to fit in with school norms.
"She didn't want to be girlie," Makayla said.
Danika was hospitalized with severe injuries after sheriff's deputies responded to the scene Friday, but she died later in the day. Del Mar Principal Jennifer Baldwin informed the students and faculty on the school's web page, announcing that grief counselors were available to everyone on campus.
The sheriff's office has jurisdiction over trains operated by the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority.
On Saturday, sheriff's investigators did not provide details about the accident, saying they were interviewing witnesses and reviewing video of the incident. Colleen Valles, a VTA spokeswoman, said the train involved in the accident will be impounded while the incident is being investigated.
Meanwhile, Danika's friends tried to remember her best traits on Saturday. Kayla, a classmate, prepared artwork of one of Danika's favorite animated cartoon characters, Homestuck, and pinned it to a telephone pole at the memorial. Students scrawled their memories on the poster.
"She was like a sister to me in the choir," said Madelyne, another of Danika's friends. "She loved to sing."
Mercury News staff writer Brandon Bailey contributed to this story. Contact Howard Mintz at 408-286-0236 or follow him at Twitter.com/hmintz