EAST COUNTY — Midday Jan. 19, nine of the people closest to Alexandra “Lexi” Brown sat around a table in the brightly lit dining room of her Heritage Harbour home and shared stories.
Lexi, however, was there only in spirit. Her size nine shoe still sat where she had left it — on the fourth-from-the-top step of a staircase.
The 10-year-old fifth-grader at Gene Witt Elementary died last week. According to police, her father, Timothy Brown, killed his only daughter, then committed suicide in rural Ohio. The investigation is ongoing.
Brown and Lexi’s mother, Nikki Lowe, are divorced, and he had custody the weekend before Jan. 14. Lowe thought her ex-husband, who lived in Parrish, would drop Lexi off at school Monday morning — like always.
Although the details remain raw, family and friends shared smiles as they gathered at the home of Lexi’s mom and stepfather, Chad Lowe.
Most people at the table wore lime-green shirts with “Lexi’s Paw Pals” written in cursive on the back, with a picture of Lexi sprawled out over a dog.
Her friend, Brianna Hair, wore a pair of Lexi’s clothes — a lime-green T-shirt with pink cursive writing and light blue jean shorts — she had pulled from a drawer in Lexi’s room.
Lexi’s room remains untouched. It contains a bejeweled gold crown on a nightstand, an accompanying lava lamp and a turtle tank where Sludgeface —“Buddy,” for short — sleeps.
A poster shows a penguin with “Just chillin’” written above it, and a Florida State University banner hangs on a lime-green wall atop her lime-green bedspread.
At 5-foot-2 with size nine feet, Lexi, who took hip-hop, ballet and jazz at Jump Dance Co., in Lakewood Ranch, was rhythmic, yet clumsy.
She was a natural athlete who came into sport later than her peers. She played softball and volleyball.
In a 2012 Witt talent show, Lexi tipped her top hat and said in her best British accent, “Today we will sing for you, ‘Starships are Meant to Fly.’” Lexi ended the show with her “cheer-up crazy dance,” during which she waved her arms wildly, kicked her feet up and puffed her cheeks.
Lexi once earned third place in a school science fair for a project she called “Fish poop.” But, beyond her outward goofiness was a student who participated in Witt’s honors program and science club.
Lexi was a serial planner. She had already planned her 11th birthday party in April — a family camping trip. And with the hope of becoming a marine biologist, she planned her life around animals.
Lexi spent much of her free time at Nate’s Honor Animal Rescue.
At first, less than two years ago, Lexi would drag her family to the shelter and pretend to want to adopt dogs, just so she could socialize with them.
The staff finally caught on, so Lexi tried to get involved another way.
Two weeks ago, she signed her family up online for an animal-training program called Open Paws, which was re-named to Lexi’s Paw Pals after her death. The family was supposed to go to the shelter Jan. 20, as part of the program. Her mom and stepdad still went in Lexi’s honor.
Lexi was a people-pleaser.
When Chad Lowe had a bad day at work, Lexi would say she needed a hug. She never said, “I think you need a hug.” It was her unique way of cheering up her stepdad.
As the memories keep the family going, the commemorations keep coming, as well.
Broken Egg will name a hamburger after Lexi, “Lexi’s Big Mouth Double Decker Burger.” Lexi was known to eat 11 pieces of bread in one sitting.
Nikki Lowe has read more than 100 letters from Lexi’s classmates, including one from a boy who fit two lime-green pencils into an envelope.
In it, the boy wrote Lexi was the only kid who had befriended him when no one else would.
Lexi’s best friends, Brianna Hair and Ronni Belser, spoke at a Jan. 21 service at Woodland — The Community Church.
“Lexi liked the saying, ‘Live each day like it’s your last,’” Nikki Lowe said. “She sure did. She had a short life, but she had a lifetime of happiness for everybody. She touched everyone.”
Lexi Brown is survived by her mother, Nikki Lowe; stepfather, Chad Lowe; half-brother, Tyler Sambucci; stepbrother, Christian Lowe; and stepsister Hope Lowe.
Contact Josh Siegel at [email protected].