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Community mourns death of 9-year-old: ‘She changed every single one of us’

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RICHMOND, Va. – A vigil Wednesday night brought together a community mourning the death of nine-year-old Mary Elizabeth “Betsy” Haas.

The young  girl died over the July 4th weekend, after emergency brain surgery. Those who knew her said Betsy was the very definition of spunky, and that she was an outrageously happy and funny child.

Besty had a lifetime full of medical issues, and her very birth defied the odds. She was born with a brain injury and had a shunt in her brain since birth.

Betsy Haas

Her family said the shunt malfunctioned and Betsy required emergency surgery.

Family, friends and youngsters are crushed; parents are trying to help their little ones deal with the grief.

Betsy just completed third grade at Mary Munford Elementary School.

“Their feelings come in waves, we're reading books to our children and reassuring them that Betsy is still with them in spirit; she would want them to go on and have fun,” said family friend, Margaret Fretz.

Teachers remember Betsy as a class spelling bee champ who brought a special zest to the room, with her great attitude, work ethic, and unforgettable fashion.

Betsy Haas

“She wore some outrageous outfits; she wore colors, she wore polka dots, she wore big bows -- in fact, I even got a big bow to wear tomorrow,” said Liz Gill, Betsy’s teacher.

Classmates are trying to find a little peace by decorating the sidewalk in front of Betsy's home, hoping to bring brightness and love to Betsy’s family in this dark hour.

“She was a character, there are not enough words to explain it,” Gill said; and loved ones can't say enough about Betsy.

Betsy Haas

“I think she had more joy in nine years than a lot of people see in their whole lives and I think that because that's how she chose to live life, joy is something you choose – and she did that,” said Joan Nelson, Betsy’s godmother.

Her godmother, and others, described Betsy as a fireball, a fighter, and someone who made a huge impact.

Betsy Haas

“We loved Betsy, she changed every single one of us, just by us knowing her,” Fretz said. “She changed us for the good and that we will make sure we let her spirit live on; that we will always honor her and remember her and hold her in our hearts.”

Wednesday night Vigil

Jessica Wittkamp and Cathy Temple organized Wednesday’s walk from Thomas Jefferson High School to the Haas home a few blocks away.

They thought it would be just two of them along with their children, but once they posted it on Facebook, that number grew quickly.

"The community really is tight knit. It's a small neighborhood, elementary school, and our kids are growing up together and we're helping each other with their kids so I’m not surprised," said former neighbor and organizer Cathy Temple.

When the community arrived at the Haas home, one by one they placed the electric lit jars on a table that formed into the shape the heart.

Bubbles were blown into the air and many cried and fought back tears as they hugged each other in their time of grieving.

"We talk a lot about presence and light and being their light and we thought this is a simple way of lighting up and showing that we're here for them," said Wittkamp.

A funeral mass for little Betsy will take place Thursday at 10 a.m. at Saint Bridget Catholic Church.