COLUMBIA — Everyone knew when Priscilla Guzman walked into the room.
"She was one of those people who came through the door and lit up the room," Max Baroli, a classmate and close friend of Ms. Guzman, said. "It was rare to find someone that didn't like her. She had her own special bond with everyone."
Baroli said he recalls Ms. Guzman spontaneously breaking into joyous dance and squirting water guns at unsuspecting passersby in the Rock Bridge High School hallway.
Ms. Guzman, who friends remember as goofy, strong-willed, loyal and charismatic, died last Thursday, March 1, in Columbia. She was 18.
Born June 16, 1993, in Rockford, Ill., to Ricardo and Sarah Ann Lopez Guzman, Ms. Guzman spent her childhood in Maryland Heights before moving to Columbia in seventh grade. She attended Jefferson Junior High School and Rock Bridge High School, where she graduated from in 2011.
Ms. Guzman was toughness personified, according to family and friends. She was a tremendous athlete, playing as a forward for the Rock Bridge High School soccer team before tearing her ACL. Despite enduring two surgeries, Ms. Guzman was back on the field in less than a year, her father said.
Ms. Guzman brought her toughness to the United States Marine Corps. She enlisted in February 2011 and graduated from boot camp in Parris Island, S.C., on Jan. 16. She received high accolades for her performance in boot camp, earning the designation of private first class, her family said.
Several childhood friends also credited Ms. Guzman for making a powerful, positive impact on their lives.
Lexi Dressel lived down the street from Ms. Guzman in Maryland Heights, where they both attended McKelvey Elementary School. She said she hung out at the Guzman's house every day after school until her mom forced her to come home. Dressel remembered those afternoons as some of her favorites as a child.
"She taught me how to love SpongeBob as much as she did, how to have fun and mostly how to be a strong person," Dressel said. "When Priscilla moved to Columbia, yes, I missed my friend, but I know she gave me things her absence could not take away."
Amanda Lewis grew up with Guzman and Dressel in Maryland Heights. She got a first-hand taste of Ms. Guzman's athleticism when the two played basketball, softball and soccer together at their local church.
"We used to try and play with the boys at recess," Lewis said. "I was always too scared because they were so much bigger, but Priscilla told me not to be scared, that I could do it."
Ms. Guzman never let anyone push her down. She was always so strong, Lewis said. Even at a young age, Ms. Guzman was already the center of attention.
"She taught me how to slide tackle so we could impress the boys," Lewis said.
Ms. Guzman was intensely loyal, her brother, Ricardo Guzman II, said.
"Her loyalty ran deep," her brother said. "It wasn't just for family but for friends, too. She was always ready to fight for us."
Ms. Guzman's loyalty propelled her friends through tough times. Taylor Payne graduated Rock Bridge High School with Ms. Guzman and knew her for four years. Payne considered their friendship on and off but stressed Ms. Guzman was "there for me during my darkest hour."
In 2011, Payne was taking time off from school for depression and had not spoken to Ms. Guzman in some time. Payne was struggling, sitting at home, when she received a text from an unknown number.
"Hey. I just thought you should know red is my absolute favorite hair color," the text read.
The redheaded Payne found out the text was from was Ms. Guzman.
"She didn't have to do that," Payne said. "It just shows what type of caliber person she was. It was so beautiful how she comforted me without having to address the issue. Priscilla was a random ray of sunshine in a tough time for me."
Ms. Guzman's compassion was contagious, her father said.
"She was a very giving person," he said. "She just wanted everyone to be happy."
Ms. Guzman is survived by her father, Ricardo Guzman, of St. Charles; her mother, Sarah Lopez, of Fulton; a brother, Ricardo Guzman II, of St. Charles; three sisters, Natasha Hernandez and Trina Hernandez of St. Louis, and Erica Guzman of St. Charles; grandparents Rose and Priscilliano Lopez of Lavaca, Ark.; a great-grandmother, Lucia Lopez, of Lansing, Mich.; two nephews, Jaelin Handy and Alex Hernandez; and one niece, Julianna Handy.
Burial will be at 11 a.m. Wednesday at Oak Grove Cemetery, 2700 W. Clay St., St. Charles.
Condolences can be posted at parkerfuneralservice.com.