A woman whose body was pulled from Lake Lanier on Sunday has been identified as 18-year-old Estelle Kouassi of Winder.
Investigators linked the body to the description of Kouassi based on a missing person report filed March 3 with the Hall County Sheriff’s Office. Officials then obtained Kouassi’s medical and dental records to complete the identification.
“Through dental records, the medical examiner was able to positively identify the body found as Estelle Kouassi,” a Hall County Sheriff’s Office news release said.
Investigators spoke with family members and friends of Kouassi.
Foul play is not suspected, but the cause of death remains undetermined.
Fishermen reported seeing the body in the lake around 11:30 a.m. Sunday in the area of Dawsonville Highway bridge on the Chattahoochee River.
Kouassi had attended Apalachee High School in Winder, then transferred to Chestatee High School in Hall County in September, Barrow County School System Superintendent Dr. Chris McMichael said Friday morning.
“It is always a terrible thing for any school community when something like this happens,” McMichael said. “Students and staff become so invested in each other’s well-being in the school setting that it often seems to be an amplified emotional situation when these tragedies occur.”
Savannah Elizabeth Smith met Kouassi at Apalachee through Kouassi’s older brother, Paul.
“I'd see her in the hallway at Apalachee High and she’d smile and tell me I was beautiful,” Smith said via Facebook. “She has such a contagious smile.”
It was her smile and her personality that 18-year-old Z’coria Little will always remember about Kouassi.
“She was very sweet and outgoing person,” Little said. “She never seemed like she had any problems. She was never the type of person to bully. She was really sweet.”
The Winder woman said she met Kouassi in the seventh grade.
“We were in class one day and she started to talk to me and we became really good friends after that,” she said.
Little, who was unaware Kouassi was missing for a month, was shocked when she learned on Facebook that her friend had died.
“I wasn’t expecting it,” she said. “I didn’t talk to her that long ago and she was gone the next.”
Apalachee principal Jennifer Martin said students were made aware of Kouassi’s death Friday and counselors were available to any student who needed to leave class and talk. She added the administration encouraged teachers to talk with students about the importance of sharing their grief and the importance of guiding students to the appropriate resources.
“Losing a student has a direct impact on our community,” Martin said. “As a school, we view our role as providing support to families and also to our students as they grieve for their friends and classmates,” Martin said.
“The students at AHS have come together to create a week of positivity, highlighting the battles young people face with self-image, depression and self-worth. The student body has shown compassion and care for one another and we are not afraid to talk about the many burdens each individual carries with them. We have focused on the importance of empathy and will continue to bond together in this way.”
Lexi Shiloh Weber said she met Kouassi in eighth grade at Westside Middle School, but they didn’t become friends until a year later at Apalachee when they had the same gym class.
“We always stuck together every single day in gym just talking and not participating and laughing, because we both knew we'd never participate due to how lazy we were,” the 18-year-old Lawrenceville woman said. “We wouldn't care what anyone thought.”
Throughout the year, the pair became closer and Weber counted her as one of her closest friends.
“Estelle was probably one of the funniest, most uplifting beautiful people you would have met,” she said. She was amazing. Doesn't matter what life threw her way, she stayed smiling. She was the sweetest. She made friends with everyone and always made people happy.”
Her ability to make friends is apparent as almost 600 people signed up as her friends on the RIP Estelle Kouassi Facebook page, which went online Thursday.
Some might attribute it to her complimentary and sweet nature as well as her positive attitude.
“She was real and it's very hard to find real in this society today,” Smith said. “In a world of darkness, she was light.”
A GoFundMe account has been established to help pay for Kouassi’s funeral costs. To donate, visit www.gofundme.com/estellekouassi
Barrow County News contributed to this story.