Like any father, Steven Martino knew how special his daughter was, but he didn't realize how much she touched the lives of others until Monday night.
Several hundred friends, classmates, parents and members of the community walked the short distance from West Essex Regional High School to remember Alyssa Martino with a candle lighting ceremony on the front lawn of her Squire Hill Road home.
Martino, a 2008 West Essex grad, died suddenly last week from illness at the age of 19. Those who knew her best recalled at the vigil her one-of-a-kind smile and laugh, life-of-the-party attitude, school spirit, unwavering friendship and, of course, being a loving daughter.
"I wasn't sure if I would be able to say anything or not, but standing here and looking at all of you come down tonight to pay tribute to our daughter is an amazing and moving thing," Steven Martino said.
"We all knew how special Alyssa was. I just didn't know that you all knew it, too. These past three days have been obviously as you knew very difficult and impossible for anybody to endure. But all of your support and all of the love you have shown for our family and to Alyssa has made it bearable. It's made me proud the number of people who are out there tonight. It's made me think about how proud I am of Alyssa."
The vigil was organized by West Essex Class of 2009 President Ryan Funsch and teacher Andrea Mondadori. For each candle that was lit, $1 was donated to the newly formed scholarship fund established in Martino's memory for a student pursuing a fashion career.
Martino was home on summer vacation following her sophomore year at Marist College, where she studied fashion merchandising, when she died in the hospital last Tuesday, June 22. According to Funsch, Martino showed no signs of being ill before an infection rapidly took over her body.
"She was sick, but she didn't show signs that she was. That's the scary part," he said. "It would have been literally as if she had gotten into a car accident and died. That's how tragic it was."
Funsch, 19, who attends Montclair State University, will always appreciate Martino's zest for life and will never forget her distinct smile and laugh.
"We were just really close. I just have so many memories of her that I'll always remember," Funsch said. "I will never forget her smile and her laugh. I will never, ever forget her laugh. She was just so fun. She actually loved life."
Close friend Alba Loconsole said Martino's bright smile and unmistakable laugh will remain forever embedded with her as well.
"Her smile and her laugh was the best thing about her," Loconsole said. "She was a great girl. Everyone loved her. She will be in my heart forever."
Christina Ciampi will never forget her late-night visits to Martino's house to gossip about what her best friend missed after leaving a party early.
"She was my best friend. She was like my person. Things weren't real until I told her," Ciampi said. "She would have to leave parties early, because she had this like insane curfew—it was like 12:30. We all got to leave later. My brother would pick me up and I would come to her house and throw mulch at her bedroom window and update her on what happened.
"She was the best person—ever. There aren't enough words to describe how amazing she was."
Katie Lipkin was touched most by Martino's everlasting friendship, even after the two were separated when they each went off to college.
"After high school, sometimes friendships grow apart and sometimes they fade, but the best part was that mine and Alyssa's friendship never did," Lipkin said as she fought back tears. "That meant everything to me."
According to friends, Martino had a way of impacting all of her peers through her vibrant personality and passionate school spirit, even coining the phrase "Bad Ass '08" for her graduating class.
"She was always the life of the party," Danielle Taormina said. "She meant everything to everyone. She really was the queen of Seniors '08."
When Martino wasn't out with friends, she kept them entertained through text messages while watching TV. It's one memory Alanna Bianchi will miss.
"I used to text her during every single show," she said. "We used to watch 'One Tree Hill.' We loved Kenny from 'The Real World.' We were obsessed with him.
"Just recently, we said that we were going to go on the show and be 'Bad Ass '08' and start fights with every girl on the show. We used to text during every show. I'm not going to have anyone to text during the shows that I watch."
As the inclement weather spared the North Caldwell area, Funsch had to wonder if Martino was watching over to allow the vigil to go on as close friends and family members, including Martino's younger cousins, shared their fondest memories of the longtime camp counselor of the borough's Summer Fun program.
In addition to her father, Martino is survived by her mother, Rosalind, siblings Samantha and Nicholas and grandparents, Rosalyn Mangione and Nicholas and Catherine Martino.
Funeral services were held Saturday in North Caldwell at Notre Dame Roman Catholic Church, where Martino was a parishioner. She was buried later that afternoon at Gate of Heaven Cemetery in East Hanover.
While Steven Martino was initially apprehensive of holding the candlelight vigil, it turned out to be a poignant ceremony he'll always remember.
"Alyssa was truly a special, special person. I know now that none of you will ever forget Alyssa. You can't. You wouldn't be here if you could," he said.
"I want to thank Ryan and Mondo for putting all of this together. Someone came to me early on last week and asked if we were OK with it. I was a little hesitant. As the days went on, I saw everybody coming forward to help us out, coming to show their love, I thought this was necessary. I just want to thank everybody for coming. I'll never forget it and I know our family will never forget it."