Family and friends remember 15-year-old as bubbly and optimistic
GILROY - Standing in their oldest daughter’s bedroom, Miki and Scott
Kinkel remembered with tears and laughter the 15-year-old who was quick with a
smile and wise beyond her years.
The Kinkels gazed at the floor, cluttered with clothes, books and the cheerleading uniform Erin Kinkel wore while volunteering at last weekend’s Garlic Festival. They pointed to posters that crowd the room’s four walls, dozens of which were signed by the musicians they featured. They recalled attending Erin’s various athletic competitions - gymnastics, cheerleading, karate - where she earned more trophies and ribbons than could be displayed. And the Kinkels admired the many photographs of a red-headed, grinning Erin, noting two or three that will be displayed at her memorial service on Thursday.
The Kinkels, along with three daughters Megan, 12, Danielle, 7, and Catherine, 4, were still reeling from Erin’s death early Sunday morning following a vehicle accident on Redwood Retreat Road.
“I can’t believe I can’t hold her one more time,” Scott Kinkel said.
Erin’s often-used crutches leaned against the wall next to her bed. Besides suffering injuries that come with being a three-sport athlete, sister Megan called her an “all-around klutz.”
The Gilroy High School student, who was set on becoming a television journalist, was a rock for friends and family, relatives said.
“If there was a problem, Erin was the shoulder that they all used,” Scott said. “She was always there to help them out, she was always the ‘big sister’.”
Support for the Kinkel family in their grief was constant Monday afternoon as numerous visitors stopped by with hugs, toys for the girls and colorful bouquets of flowers that relatives said Erin would have loved.
“Everyone’s been coming, it’s been like Grand Central Station,” said Sy Gelman, Kinkel’s grandfather.
Kinkel, who would have been a junior at GHS this fall, liked to stay active and was involved in numerous extracurricular activities.
It was at the karate studio that Kinkel met Jason Cole, a recent GHS graduate, whom she dated for the past year-and-a-half.
“We were always together, the connection we had was really special,” said Cole, 18. “It was just something a lot of people don’t see.
“I knew her better than anyone else could ever know her. We knew everything inside each other.”
Kinkel loved to attend plays, Cole said, particularly musicals. The two went to both local plays and larger productions in San Jose, “anything where they were acting on stage,” he said.
Like many who knew her, Cole fell in love with Kinkel’s smile.
“She always looked on the good side of a lot of things,” he said.
She recently earned a spot on the varsity cheerleading squad. Slim and 5-foot-1, she was the star stunt performer.
“She’s just irreplaceable; how can you replace someone like Erin?” said Shirley Nunes, GHS cheerleading coach. “She was just beautiful, she had such incredible leadership qualities.”
When the younger girls on the squad had a problem, Nunes said, it was Erin who was their collective voice. She was the type that would just step up and speak up, but in a very gentle way, she said.
The squad started practicing for the upcoming year last week and will meet again this afternoon.
“It’s going to be hard, but we can only turn it into something positive and say, ‘We’re doing this for Erin’,” Nunes said.
Kinkel was a competitive gymnast for years before joining the GHS varsity girls gymnastics team.
“She joined our team and she came in with advanced skills. She was definitely one of our team leaders athletically,” said Coach Nichole Anagnoston. “She had a calmness about her, yet at the same time she was very expressive.”
Kinkel qualified individually for Central Coast Sections, where her family watched as she placed a team-high fourth in the all-around.
“She was rock solid in competition,” Anagnoston said. “She was very good under pressure.
”I just was thinking this morning, it just dawned on me, you know it pops in your mind - she had a real good chance at being this year’s MVP. That would have really excited her.”
Perhaps she even thrived on it. She earned her blue belt in karate after studying for a year and put her gymnastics skills to use, teaching tumbling to the younger students.
“She was looking forward to being a black belt” in about two years, Scott Kinkel said. “The plan was that Erin, Danielle and I were going to test at the same time. So now Danielle and I will do it and dedicate it to Erin.”
Russ Rocchi, owner of West Coast Martial Arts in Morgan Hill where the Kinkels studied, said Erin Kinkel was talented, physically gifted and set to be one of his top students.
“She was always in a good mood when she came in she had a wonderful smile on her face,” Rocchi said. “It was infectious because everyone always wanted to be around her.”
“She’s always been that kind of person - a heart this big and kind to anybody,” her mother, Miki, said.
Her temper only seemed to flair when she felt her family or friends were being threatened, her father said.
Bubbly, vivacious and optimistic, Erin Kinkel also had wisdom rarely seen in a 15-year-old.
“She was 15 going on 25,” grandmother Laura Gelman said Monday, exactly a month before what would have been her 16th birthday.
Kinkel had a maturity beyond her years.
“She was really professional in the way she handled herself,” Cole said. “She acted a lot older than she was.”
Those who knew her say Kinkel’s spirit and liveliness will serve as an inspiration despite their loss.
“I know the girls are having a rough time,” said Anagnoston, the gymnastics coach. “My wish for them is that they just get inspired by Erin’s life and make the most of their lives.”
Friends and family will get a chance to remember Erin during a memorial Thursday at 2 p.m. at Oakwood Country School, which she attended from its opening nine years ago until her eighth grade graduation in 2002.
Internment will be at 4 p.m. at Gavilan Hills Cemetery. Afterward, the Kinkel family will host an open house.
Sports Editor Scott Forstner contributed to this report.
Lori Stuenkel can be reached at 847-7158 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
|Lori Stuenkel is a staff writer for The Gilroy Dispatch.|