SAVANNAH, Ga. - Two Georgia communities, nearly 400 miles apart, are mourning the death of a 21-year-old college student.
Karissa Grace Tatum, of LaFayette, died from her injuries after crashing her car while leaving Savannah State University, according to various media reports. With Hurricane Dorian approaching the Georgia coast, Tatum and other students were forced to evacuate campus Sunday.
While on I-16, Tatum hydroplaned and hit a tree, according to WSAV, a Savannah news station. She later died at Memorial Health University Medical Center.
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The junior mass communications major, who turned 21 two weeks ago, was a volleyball player at Savannah State after a standout athletic career at LaFayette High School in Walker County.
News of her death shocked both her northwest Georgia community and her friends and classmates in Savannah.
"My heart is heavy right now. The world lost a bright light," John Waldon, a LaFayette teacher, posted on his public Facebook page. "Please pray for the Tatum family as they cope with the loss of their sweet daughter, Karissa ... She was such a joy. Such a painful loss for the LaFayette community."
Thursday night, after learning of Tatum's death, her former high school team hit the court, sweeping two matches, the Walker County Messenger reported. LaFayette's players wore orange-and-blue ribbons, the Savannah State colors, and wrote her initials and number on their legs, the newspaper reported.
SSU Interim President Kimberly Ballard-Washington asked for privacy for the Tatum family, but released an emailed statement.
"On behalf of the Savannah State University family, I extend our heartfelt condolences to the family of Miss Tatum," Ballard-Washington said. "As caring members of the Tiger family, let us all do everything possible to support each other during this difficult time. Please keep the family in your thoughts during this difficult time."
Tatum's college classmates also posted tributes on social media.
"God, be with Savannah State for we lost a Tiger. Sending my thoughts and prayers to the Tatum family as they mourn the loss of Karissa," one student posted on Twitter. "Let us show strength and peace throughout this time. Heal and protect the Tiger family."
Students can return to the Savannah campus Saturday, according to the university's website.
Tatum is survived by her parents, LeAnne and Jerry Tatum. Funeral arrangements were pending late Friday.
— Staff writer Eric Stirgus contributed to this report.
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