WILMINGTON, Del. — Friends and neighbors knew Amy Inita Joyner-Francis as the quiet teen who would focus on her homework. Another knew her as the girl who liked blue candy.
But Nik Stryminski remembers her as the one who kept him safe and out of a fight earlier this school year. He said the incident happened in math class at Howard High School of Technology. It started when an argument between him and another student began to teeter toward violence.
That’s when Amy, 16, stepped in, Stryminski said, backed him into a corner, and calmed him down.
“She wasn’t worried about herself. She was worried about me not fighting,” he said. “She didn’t believe in fighting, and the craziest thing is she died in a fight.”
Amy died Thursday morning at Howard High School during a violent attack in the girls bathroom. Wilmington Police have not announced the cause of her death or details related to the attack.
Stryminski believes Amy went into the bathroom with the same mindset that she brought to his conflict, he said.
“It’s not even like she went in there to fight. She went in there to talk things out,” he said.
Troy Johnson, another Howard sophomore, echoed Stryminski. Amy was a good influence to her peers with her calm personality, he said.
“If I were to have kids I’d want them to hang around someone like her,” he said.
At a vigil for Amy Thursday evening, community leaders spoke about the need for teens to develop a strong sense of self-worth to stem violence that occurs, often in troubled neighborhoods around Howard High. Stryminski, however, points to adults who he said need to provide more positive examples for kids who have difficult home lives.
“You need more mentors out here. You need more people that care about kids,” he said.
As it was, Amy was often the one who calmly counseled her friends, many said. Amil Gibbs, a sophomore at Howard, said she would sit with Amy during lunch and tell her about problems she had in school. Amy would reassure her using simple encouragements, like “be strong,” she said, but from her they were effective.
“Simple stuff that other people would say but I would react differently because she was very important to me,” Gibbs said.
Amy had a goal to attend college after her years at Howard High, Stryminksi said. In the same math class where she diffused a scuffle, he said, she sometimes had her own struggles with the numerical concepts.
“But even if she was struggling you could still see her pushing through, trying to pass, trying to get that good grade.”
That's the image many of Amy's neighbors had of the 16-year-old who had just recently earned her driving learner's permit. She was frequently seen quietly walking to the school bus each morning with her book bag.
"She would walk to the bus stop by herself," said Maxine Wilson, who lives near the teen's New Castle home. “I had never seen this little girl messing with anybody.”
Capone Whyte was standing outside Amy's home on the quiet street lined with town homes Thursday afternoon. He wanted to talk with Amy's mother, who he had known since he and Amy were in preschool together at St. Michael's School and Nursery in Wilmington.
Whyte, also a Howard High student, was shocked when he heard that it was his lifelong friend who was involved in the violent incident, he said.
“She never would beef with no other girls or none of that,” he said.
Instead, to him, she was the girl who would like to write, and who would say "hi" in the school hallways.
“She was caring, and I miss her,” he said.
Follow Karl Baker on Twitter: @kbaker6