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Sunday, April 21, 2024

Friends of student killed Friday try to cope with death

In the past two days, Allison Cecchini has called her best friend 17 times though she knows Ashley Slonina will never pick up her phone again.

Cecchini said she just wants to hear Slonina's voice, even if it's only a recording.

Slonina, a UF political science junior from Lynn Haven, Fla., died early Friday morning in a motorcycle accident with Michael Guilford, a UF sophomore and defensive back for UF's football team.

Cecchini, a UF sophomore, heard the news of Slonina's death later that same morning.

"I didn't even know what to do," she said. "I didn't know whether to brush my teeth first or put my hair up. I was walking around in circles. I had to leave the apartment, but I didn't know how."

Cecchini went to Slonina's townhouse to check on Slonina's dogs, a chihuahua named Bella and a puggle-a pug and poodle mix-named Bitty.

She said she didn't know how long the dogs had been alone because Slonina had no roommate. Cecchini had planned to move in with her next year.

She said she was at the townhouse when Slonina's parents arrived.

Her dad, Jim Slonina, was calm and collected as if he were in survival mode, Cecchini said. It was difficult to look at Slonina's mom, Rose, because she looks so much like her daughter, Cecchini added.

Jim and Rose Slonina could not be reached for comment.

"I couldn't leave her room," Cecchini said. "I just sat there expecting her to jump out and laugh at us like this is a big joke."

She said everything in the townhouse was exactly as Slonina left it.

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Clean clothes she would never wear sat folded on her bed. Next to a bowl of Halloween candy in the kitchen was a stack of mail waiting to be sent.

A Halloween welcome mat was left unopened in the garage.

Cecchini unwrapped it and placed it outside Slonina's front door.

A message on Slonina's refrigerator dry-erase board read, "I love you with all my heart." Cecchini said she's not sure whom Slonina left it for.

What Cecchini wanted to find most were photos from a concert she and Slonina went to on Monday. She said Slonina tried to give her the developed pictures Tuesday, but Cecchini told her she'd get them from her later.

After searching Slonina's townhouse, Cecchini said she finally found the negatives for the photographs she'll keep forever.

"I don't ever want to forget her," she said. "You know?"

Cecchini said she wanted to do something to keep thoughts of Slonina close to her every day.

So with a swift prick of a needle, she said she put the memory of her best friend under her own skin.

Cecchini's new tattoo is a replica of the one Slonina had on her back-a winged heart. Cecchini added a halo, Slonina's initials and "Rev. 21:4" to hers.

The Bible passage it refers to reads, "God shall wipe away all the tears from their eyes, and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away."

Janae Hart, a UF communication sciences and disorders senior and another close friend of Slonina, picked up Slonina's personal belongings from a funeral home.

Hart also drove Slonina's white Lexus SUV back to Slonina's parents' home in Lynn Haven.

"It was kind of healing to be in her car and feel her with me," she said. "I did a lot of thinking of all the times we had in that car."

Hart met Slonina at a skating rink in middle school. They attended A. Crawford Mosley High School, Gulf Coast Community College and UF together.

For now, Hart said she's trying to stay strong for Slonina's family.

"I have to do what I have to do to make this right for everyone else," she said. "I can come in later."

Remembering the good times makes it easier to postpone her grieving, and she said she has plenty of memories to choose from.

Hart said she's also called and text messaged Slonina several times since she died, spilling secrets and inside jokes to an orphaned phone.

Like Hart, Cecchini knows she'll never get a response, but she said Slonina couldn't have left her with a better last text message: "Just wanted to say LOVE YOUUUUUUUUU."

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