A student and varsity cheerleader at Palatka High School in Putnam County, Florida, died Thursday following a tragic accident in the deer woods. Baylee Holbrook, 16, was bowhunting with her father, Matthew, on Tuesday when lightning struck a nearby tree, reports the Palatka Daily News.
The tree fell on the pair of hunters and both lost consciousness, according to the Putnam County Sheriff’s Office. When Matthew awoke, he saw Baylee was still unconscious.
"The father called 911 and began CPR as rescue personnel rushed to the scene," the statement reads. "Deputies arrived first and took over life saving measures until rescue arrived and could transport the teen. Rescue personnel got the teen to the HCA Florida Putnam Hospital where she was stabilized enough to take to a trauma center."
Baylee was transported to UF Health in nearby Gainesville. She passed away from her injuries at 9:32 a.m. on Sept. 28.
“Our entire community is completely devastated by Holbrook’s loss,” Putnam County School District superintendent Rick Surrency said. “The outpouring of love at a vigil [for Baylee] showed just how much she meant to her friends and community members.”
A two-hour prayer vigil for the teenager on Sept. 28 drew hundreds of people. Many offered testimony to Baylee’s positive nature and how much the local community cherished her.
“She transcended every group of kids,” Palatka High principal Cathy Oyster told the Palatka Daily News before the vigil. “She was the most inclusive loving kid you could meet.”
Baylee also loved to boat, turkey hunt, and bowhunt, especially with her father. Matthew addressed his daughter’s tragic death in a Facebook post.
“Baylee Faith Holbrook you are my best friend,” he wrote. “Our 16 years together you have made me better. You’ve made me a better man. A better father ... We talked just as much smack to each other as a person could possibly stand. You’ve told me when I’m wrong even when everyone else agrees with me. You’ve loved me on those days when I felt defeated and constantly told me to give my struggles to Jesus. Everyone knows our opinion whether they wanted to hear it or not. Handing you to your Heavenly Father today is something I thought I’d never do but something you’ve been preparing me to do all along.”
In a statement announcing its response to the accident, PCSO also warned residents of increased storm activity in the area.
"The last two days we have seen an increase in lightning strikes in our area and we want to remind our community that the forecast is predicted several more days of increased rain, thunder and lightning," PCSO wrote. "Storms can come quickly and lightning can strike up to 10 miles away from any rainfall."