Close friends of a murdered Ole Miss student recall her as a vibrant, empathetic person who never wanted others to feel left out.
“She’s so outgoing, and really wanted to make sure everyone was doing okay and had a fun time and enjoyed themselves,” Samantha Martin, 21, a close friend of Alexandria “Ally” Kostial, tells PEOPLE.
Another friend, Casey Hendrickson, 22, says, “She was always happy, always so positive through every situation, no matter how crappy it was, she was like, ‘This is okay, the sun will come out tomorrow.’ She was a ray of sunshine. … She gave everyone the benefit of the doubt; she was so kind to everyone.”
Both were classmates of the 21-year-old Kostial at Lindbergh High School in suburban St. Louis, Missouri, where a candlelight vigil at sunset Thursday drew about 200 people who remembered the 2016 graduate as an adventurer, cheerleader, swimmer, long-distance runner and honor society member fiercely loyal to those she cared about, while also opening her heart to all.
Neither knew much about Brandon Theesfeld, 22, a fellow University of Mississippi student from Texas accused of Kostial’s killing after her body was found Saturday by police on patrol near a lake about 20 miles from the Oxford campus. Police say she had been shot eight times.
“I remember her speaking of him three years ago; it wasn’t anything negative, it wasn’t anything that brought up concerns,” says Hendrickson. “I remember her talking about meeting some guy at Ole Miss, really liking this guy and he was from Texas. … I never met him.”
On multiple visits to see Kostial in Oxford, Martin never met him, either. But says she heard others talk about him.
“I met a lot of Ally’s friends down there,” she says. “I was around him a few times but, I don’t know, I just heard he wasn’t very nice from multiple people and that he just never treated girls very well.”
And Kostial, she says, was sometimes hurt when she opened herself up.
“She was just a kind person,” says Martin. “She had a beautiful soul. She made sure everyone was included. She never, ever met a stranger, and was just such a bright light in our lives.”
“When her and another person had a disagreement, like normal high school girls do, she would always be like, ‘They’re just being so sassy, I don’t know why they’re being so mean.'”
“I was like, ‘Ally, it’s okay to be mad at those people, it’s okay to know that people aren’t as nice as you,'” she says. “I would always tell her, ‘The rest of the world is never going to be as nice as you are, and you need to realize that so you don’t get your feelings hurt as much.'”
“She was always just very trusting and very sweet.”
Kostial’s generous nature played out in other ways. In one instance, a friend who didn’t have a date to the prom was invited by Kostial to ride along with her, so she wouldn’t have to arrive alone, the friend — who declined to share her name with PEOPLE — shared at the vigil.
Another friend, Lauren Mueller, 20, remembered a night spent on Kostial’s backyard porch, with Kostial advising Mueller, “Never be afraid to be yourself.”
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Nick Luitjens, 21, who ran with Kostial as part of the school-sponsored Students on the Go half-marathon training club, described himself as a terrible tennis player who could always count on Kostial as a partner who didn’t mind that he couldn’t keep the ball in play. “She didn’t care,” he said. He saw it instead as his friend “sharing something she loved and making other people happy.”
Ben Pearly, 19, said his sister Lizzy, 21, was inseparable from Kostial, who pushed the Pearlys to join her on a local swim team. Even when Kostial trailed competitors in a lap, he said, she’d pop up in the middle of the pool with a huge smile.
“She wasn’t the best athlete,” he said, “but she was the best person to be around.”
Says Martin: “I’m trying to look at the bright side, and try to remember how she viewed life. She always wanted to go out and adventure, she traveled a lot, and she always wanted to live life to the absolute fullest and positively, about just anything that happened to her.”
Kostial’s loss, she says, “pushes me to do it more.”
Theesfeld is being held without bond. His lawyer had not returned PEOPLE’s request for comment and he he has not yet entered a plea, but in a statement to WMC-TV, Brandon Theesfeld’s father, Daniel, said his son is not guilty.
“I know my son is innocent,” reads the statement. “And I have reasons to believe that I can’t share anything now. But I would ask everybody to please give him the presumption of innocence until proven otherwise.”