BELLEVILLE, IL - There was not a dry eye Wednesday night as students, parents and teachers at Expressions Academy of Dance celebrated the life of a beloved ballerina with a candlelight vigil.
23-year-old Raffaella Stroik disappeared Monday. Her body was found in the water at Mark Twain Lake State Park at around 9:40 am Wednesday near the 107 boat ramp. Stroik lived in St. Louis but is originally from South Bend, Indiana. She performed with the St. Louis Ballet.
Investigators said a private plane pilot located what he believed to be a person in the water and notified authorities. Members of the Missouri State Highway Patrol Water Patrol Division responded and recovered Stroik’s body. Police do not believe there was any foul play in Stroik's death.
“She always came in with open arms and so welcoming and now she’s gone is just crazy," said 15-year-old, Jala Stancil, who took ballet lessons from Stroik.
Stroik had only been with the academy for about a year but quickly became a favorite among many students, their parents and fellow teachers.
“She turned many of our dancers into loving ballet where for many of them ballet wasn’t even their favorite," said Becky Vitale, co-director of the academy.
The academy celebrated the professional ballerina's life with a candlelight vigil and writing beloved messages on a wall of the studio where she taught.
Her students fondly remembered their teacher as happy, poised, classy and beautiful.
"We hope you are dancing among the stars," said Vitale as she made remarks during the vigil.
“She was patient with us," said Stancil, "it was a blessing to have her here.”
Their tears and emotions were a true expression of how much Rafaella is loved and will be forever missed.
Monsignor Joseph Simon from the Cathedral Basilica released a statement saying:
"The clergy and parishioners of the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis offers the family of Raffaella Stroik heartfelt condolences at this time. Raffaella was a member of its congregation in the Central West End, often attending Mass at the Cathedral Basilica and participating in the Anima Christi Young Adult group. Raffaella was a vibrant young Catholic woman whose presence will be missed. May she rest in peace."