Skye Pilato, 19, had just moved to North Carolina with her mother, Keiko Ratcliffe. She was starting classes at Brunswick Community College. Her life was filled with new beginnings.
That is why the news that she died Tuesday has been hitting many hard back in State College.
On Facebook, her father, muralist Michael Pilato, revealed information about her loss. She had gone to a party, then suffered a cardiac arrest in her sleep. At the hospital, she suffered liver failure.
“We still don’t know the whole story,” Michael Pilato posted. “Friends of Skye, I am so happy to tell you she had no pain and went peacefully.”
On Wednesday, students at the State College Delta Program, where Skye graduated in 2013, were told the sad news.
“We just wanted to inform the kids about what happened,” program director Jon Downs said. “We wanted them to hear it from us in a safe place.”
Downs remembered Skye for her “vivacious personality.”
“She was very independent in her thinking, with what she wanted to accomplish,” he said. “We wouldn’t have changed her for anything.”
Her friends remember a girl who was always there for them.
“She was a beautiful person inside and out,” Zach Humphreys said. “Ultimately, I can’t describe the loss I feel.”
Lisa Pilato can. When she talks about her niece, she is sad, but describing her is impossible to do without glimmers of laughter.
“She was the life of every party,” she said, talking about the little girl who started making found object art at just 5. Skye loved Harry Potter books and hula hoops, was passionate about music, and committed to causes that moved her. She had her serious side, studying to become a registered nurse, but she was also a fashionista, unafraid to be her own canvas.
“There was never a dress-down day for Skye,” Lisa Pilato said.
Local family members are planning a State College memorial service but those arrangements, including a date, have not yet been finalized.
“We always felt she was going to make many contributions to the world,” Lisa said. “She made a huge impact on everyone who knew her. We will carry her with us forever.”
Skye followed in her family’s artistic footsteps. In addition to her dad, her grandparents Grace and Guy Pilato, uncle Mark, aunts Lisa and Natalia, and her cousins have had their work shown or showcased. Skye exhibited her jewelry and hand-drawn cards in a family art show in 2012.
Skye made a courageous step forward as a rape survivor in 2011, after the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal was revealed, speaking publicly to a crowd of 75 people about her experiences just a month after her father painted Sandusky out of his “Inspiration” mural on Hiester Street, a move he attributed to Skye’s struggle.
The mural has become a memorial as locals pay their respects.
“With love, forever” is written in chalk above a small shrine of paint strokes, flowers and notes.
“She is the strongest person I have ever met, because of this I know her next journey will be made with ease,” Michael Pilato wrote on Facebook on Wednesday.