RALEIGH — Car after car slowed to a crawl Thursday at the North Raleigh intersection of North Hills Drive and Hillock Drive, halting near the blood-stained asphalt that marked the end of a first-grader's life.
People paused to leave candles, flowers, notes and stuffed animals. They built an instant shrine on roadside grass less than six feet from where Ashley Ramos-Hernandez was struck by an SUV on Wednesday afternoon, just seconds after stepping off her school bus.
Some were crying children: Ashley's playmates and school friends. Just a few days earlier, she was with them, running around the apartment complex they all call home, laughing and playing.
Tag and hide-and-seek were two of Ashley's favorites, the kids said. She often played with Tony Rosas, 9, who lives a few buildings from the Hernandez family and rushed to the scene Wednesday with his father after they heard children screaming.
And it was just last week when Ashley and 5-year-old Ana Garcia, one of her best friends, were baking make-believe cookies for each other.
Ana's mother, Melissa, said her daughter has cried constantly since she saw her friend's body lying on the road.
"It's been really, really hard on her," Garcia said. "She didn't believe it was her friend. She misses her."
On Wednesday, police say, Ashley was crossing North Hills Drive when Geraldine Deitz, 83, struck Hernandez with her sport utility vehicle. Deitz is facing changes of misdemeanor death by a motor vehicle and passing a stopped school bus, police spokesman Jim Sughrue said.
At year-round Green Elementary School, where Ashley was a first-grader, classes were on the regular schedule Thursday, but grief counselors were on hand to assist struggling students.
"She was a delightful little girl," said Principal Shelly Watson. "She would always give me hugs in the hallway and was just a joy. She never got in trouble, and always had a smile on her face."
Watson said students wrote letters and cards to Ashley, describing what they liked most about her. She liked to share, they wrote -- she helped kids figure out their computers and loved to play games with them on the playground.
Ashley's parents didn't answer a knock on their apartment door Thursday. A friend of the family, Espantaleón Cuevas, said the family is originally from Putla de Guerrero, Mexico, which is southeast of Mexico City.
Deitz didn't answer the door at her home Thursday.
As the afternoon rolled toward evening, that instant shrine to Ashley continued to grow.
Staff writer Gabe Starosta contributed to this report.
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