Merrill student Kayla Hallee’s body was found off the coast of Santa Barbara on Aug. 27. The 20-year-old was at the cusp of her third year at UCSC after taking a leave of absence during the 2012-2013 school year. Hallee would have returned to UCSC in the fall as an environmental studies major.

Kayla Hallee was found floating near an orange kayak, but investigators can’t confirm a connection between the abandoned kayak and the body. While the cause of Hallee’s death is still unknown, there is no evidence of trauma or foul play.

Originally from Mission Viejo, Calif. and a member of the women’s club soccer, Hallee is remembered by her friends as a free spirit who was enthralled by the world around her. Jacqueline Perez, a close friend of Hallee, said Hallee was a kind-hearted, understanding person to anyone she became friends with. Perez remembers how Hallee impacted her life as a student and as a person.

“She’s the one that inspired me to do environmental studies,” Perez said. “She gave me a little bit more passion for school, and a lot of students have a really hard time at school trying to find something they’re passionate about. She’s someone who pushed you into believing in who you were and who you could be and what you could love.”

Perez said that it was not rare for Hallee to go out on her own.

“She loved nature,” Perez said. “She was very independent and she would go on hikes and runs throughout the forest by herself.”

Jacqueline Perez organized a memorial for Hallee on Sept. 14. Perez said that a few of her close friends were in attendance, and afterward they all had a chance to reflect on Hallee’s lasting impact on their lives.

“We went on a hike through the back meadows of [Colleges Nine and Ten] and we talked about Kayla and how awesome she was and how she affected us,” Perez said.

Perez said that Hallee described herself perfectly in a self-reflection she wrote before a trip to India.

“I’ve come to realize how important love is in my life and everyone’s life,” Hallee wrote. “I very rarely dislike people and I think a reason for that is because I’ve felt that so many people have loved me over the course of these 19 years. It’s important to continue that cycle and show compassion for others, as hard as it sometimes feels in a sea of anonymous students.”