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Santa Rosa family grieves 11-year-old who died in her sleep

Published: Thursday, March 28, 2013 at 7:17 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, March 28, 2013 at 7:17 p.m.

By all appearances Oreonna Andrews was a healthy 11-year-old girl who loved to sing loud, dreamed of high school and was almost as big a fan of Raiders football as her father is.

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Oreonna Andrews

Andrews family photo

A week ago today, Andrews did not wake up on one of the last mornings of the spring break recess after sleeping over at her grandmother's home.

Paramedics could not revive her. A Sonoma County coroner's examination found no obvious indication of how she died.

Andrews' family and school community are grieving the sudden loss of a vivacious girl as the medical examiner awaits the results of further forensic tests.

"She was here, playing, laughing, and now she's gone," said her father Sean Andrews, 45, of Santa Rosa.

Andrews is survived by her father, mother Janin Andrews, 35, and her sisters Meseana, 12, Tiyana, 5, and Jinessa, 1.

Andrews was in fourth grade at Wright Charter School. On Thursday, a memorial of photographs, flowers and hand-drawn notes had grown in a corner of the school office at the Price Avenue campus.

"She walked her little sister to her kindergarten classroom every morning," Principal Terrena Rodebaugh said.

Andrews' fantastic imagination was evident in her writing exercises, her teacher Guy Tillotson said.

She had just joined a basketball team -- and was loving it.

"She was a unique combination of retaining that little girl imagination -- she was still into unicorns and things like that -- while still being able to be serious," Tillotson said.

During the busy morning routine, Andrews rose before her three sisters and was the last to be ready to go, her father said with a smile.

She was particular about her clothes, which she cut up into her own creations, he said. She was less focused on her hair, which she was loathe to comb, preferring instead to pull her curls back into pigtails and headbands.

"She wanted to be a singer," her sister Meseana said.

She belted songs by British singer Adele and sometimes added a splash of vinegar to her Kool-Aid after being told that's what some professional singers do, Meseana said.

In February, Andrews' father joined a class trip to Fort Ross State Historic Park where they learned about the Russian settlers and pretended to hunt otters.

The next week, they were back with the whole family.

"She wanted to tell us all about the people who were living there," Sean Andrews said.

On March 22, Sean Andrews arrived at the Santa Rosa home of his mother, Early Bee Andrews, with a change of clothes for his daughters following a night of pizza and a sleepover. He asked why all the girls were awake and active except for Oreonna. He went to wake up his daughter, who had slept on a couch, but she couldn't be woken.

"She was gone," he said.

Paramedics and police arrived. An autopsy was conducted Monday.

"It doesn't appear to be anything other than a medical issue," Santa Rosa Police Sgt. Terry Anderson said.

Without a clear explanation, Andrews' family is trying to make sense of their grief as they await medical tests that could take weeks.

Sean Andrews said Oreonna was a miraculously healthy child who rarely fell ill even as others struggled through cold and influenza seasons.

Her mother said she feels deeply heartsick with the knowledge that she struggled with substance abuse during her pregnancy with Oreonna.

She remembers the day Oreonna was born, how she held her breath until her baby finally let out a wail. She marveled at Oreonna's health as she grew.

Janin Andrews said her last conversation with her daughter was March 21 as she buckled her and her 1-year-old sister into the car.

"She asked me what her first word was -- it was bird, I told her," Janin Andrews said.

Services are being planned for April.

Memorial donations may be made in support of her family through the Oreonna Andrews account, No. 5826207921, at Chase Bank.

Staff Writer Cathy Bussewitz contributed to this report.

You can reach Staff Writer Julie Johnson at 521-5220 or julie.johnson@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @jjpressdem.

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