More than two weeks after her death, Matt Ettl is still paging through the many notebooks and papers left by his daughter, Lakeville North junior Alyssa Ettl.
The written tidbits she left — “Get things started!” “Be the hug advocate!” “Help kids that are not in class!” “Make a difference!” — speak volumes about Alyssa, who is being remembered by family, friends and the community as a gifted, faithful student who loved life and helping others.
Ettl, 16, died in a car accident on Dec. 4 while driving to school when her car slid sideways on the slushy road and was broadsided by an SUV. The accident happened on Dodd Boulevard, about a quarter-mile north of the high school.
“She was an extremely fun-loving, jovial individual that just couldn’t get enough out of life,” her dad said. “She was the first person in line to help someone out. She was just an organized little stinker, if you will.”
Ettl was a talented soccer player and had recently learned she would be a captain next year. She was a junior class officer and a member of many school organizations, including DECA, Fellowship of Christian Athletes, student council, National Honor Society, Best Buddies and Youth Teaching Youth. She also worked part-time at Lakeview Bank.
“Whatever activity she did, she would lead it,” said Caleb Bussler, a junior and close friend who was involved in DECA and other activities with Alyssa.
One of the most important areas of her life was her faith. She taught Sunday school and was active at All Saints Catholic Church in Lakeville.
She often urged her parents to make it to mass, saving the family a pew, Matt Ettl said. “She probably taught me more about faith and religion than all my years going to Catholic grade school through college,” he said.
A strong student academically — she was ranked seventh in her class — she had wanted to attend the Air Force Academy for years, her dad said, though she was considering the Naval Academy, the University of Notre Dame and UW-Madison, too.
She hoped to play soccer in college and was interested in politics, he said.
Alyssa’s death has had a significant effect on students at the school, said Lisa Holien, a counselor at Lakeville North.
While Alyssa was well-liked and very involved, students are remembering her because “her value system guided everything she did,” Holien said.
They are also using her example of service — she was an avid volunteer — and kindness as a model, she said.
Students “have really mobilized around their grief” and have organized a food drive, worked with the Salvation Army and are raising money for a scholarship fund in her name, Holien added.
Kids are also continuing a project Alyssa started, collecting books for underprivileged kids, her dad said.
Bussler said her death has “affected almost everyone, in almost every way,” he said. “If you’re in the school, you can tell a complete difference.”
Many students realized after the accident “that it could have been anybody,” Holien said. “It’s just really brought an awareness of how fragile life is.”
Bussler said that students have become more concerned about driving conditions, with more students carpooling and being conscious of safety. “It’s just something that you’re always thinking of now,” he said.
There were between 400 and 500 car accidents across the metro area on the day Alyssa died, Matt Ettl said.
He said that Alyssa took her driver’s test last year “in a snowstorm,” passing on her first try. She loved winter, he said.
He doesn’t believe the road itself was a factor in her death. The stretch of Dodd Boulevard where the crash occurred is two lanes, and the accident happened just south of W. 190th Street. The city and county are planning to expand the section from W. 185th Street (or County Road 60) to W. 194th Street to four lanes in 2018.
City Manager Steve Mielke said that he’s not qualified to say whether the road is dangerous or contributed to Alyssa’s accident. However, “I do suspect as a result of this the council will be asked whether to move this [expansion project] forward in the coming year,” Mielke said.
Matt Ettl said he and his wife, Jennifer, and their daughter, Korrine, a University of Minnesota student, have been overwhelmed by the amount of support they have received.
About 200 students boarded buses to attend a memorial service on Dodd Boulevard the Saturday after she died, despite frigid temperatures. More than 2,000 people attended Alyssa’s wake, and 1,700 were at the funeral, where Matt Ettl delivered a eulogy.
Alyssa’s death “has touched the community in myriad ways,” said Tom Mork, president and CEO of Lakeview Bank, where she worked. “We’ve had numerous customers brought to tears by her death. You just don’t see that very often.”
Matt Ettl said that he’s happy that the night before his daughter died, they were able to ring bells for the Salvation Army together. When they were done, Alyssa — always busy, always upbeat — rushed off to cheer on the boys playing basketball at the high school, he said.
“She couldn’t wait to get to the next event,” he said. “She was probably more prepared to go to heaven than anybody.”