A community is mourning the loss of a young life. As students returned to Glen Rose High School Monday following the extended Thanksgiving holiday weekend, the absence of one smiling face was felt across the campus. 

Juan "Sergio" Ayala, 17,  a high school senior, perished in an automobile accident Friday, Nov. 29, not far from the home he shared with his family. 

His classmates plan to honor his life at a ceremony and Rosary at the high school auditorium at 4 p.m. Tuesday. His family, meanwhile, prepared to mourn in a private service.

Ayala, who moved to the area about eight years ago, was the oldest of two children of Sergio and Amalia Ayala. His younger sister, Sarahi, is a freshman at GRHS.

Principal Tommy Corcoran said counselors and clergy were at the campus Monday offering support to students.

"We want to provide a safe place for students if they need someone to talk to," Corcoran said, adding by 8:30 a.m. several students had sought assistance in the grieving process. "This is a very emotional time for our students, as well as our community."

Corcoran said Ayala's passing was much more than a life cut short.

"Sergio was probably one of the nicest kids on our campus," he said. "He was a big guy, but there was not a mean bone in his body. You could say hello to him, and he would always respond. He was a 'yes sir, no sir' type of kiddo - an all-around sweet kid."

Corcoran said Ayala's character was unlike most young men his age.

"There is not too many like him," Corcoran said. "He was good-hearted and truly loved and respected his mom and dad. A real salt-of-the-earth kind of kid."

Ayala was a little more than a month shy of this 18th birthday. He was born Jan. 18, 1996 in Mexico. He enjoyed drawing and football.

Corcoran said Ayala participated in sports his freshman year, but he had more recently focused on a potential future career. He was involved in the high school's career and technology program, studying welding and auto mechanics. Ayala was working to obtain college credits through a dual welding program, and instructors said he had a "bright future" ahead of him.

He was also a part of the school's co-op program, which allowed him to leave campus to go to work in the afternoon. Ayala's smiling face was a familiar one at Tiger Corner Exxon, where he worked as a cashier. 

"He was earning money to help his family out," Corcoran said.

And a little assistance is exactly what his classmates also hope to provide the Ayala family. Donations to assist with funeral and related expenses are being collected at GRHS.