Those who worked with Cassandra Cline are remembering the beloved teacher as a “sweet” and “gorgeous woman” just days after the 45-year-old was dragged to her death by an alligator while walking her dog on South Carolina’s Hilton Head Island.
Cline taught kindergarten at Union-Endicott Central School District in New York for 16 years, superintendent Dr. Suzanne McLeod told the Island Packet. McLeod said Cline had the “toughest job in a school district,” but always went above and beyond for her students.
“She made her classroom a home for everyone,” McLeod told the publication, noting that Cline was like the beloved, whimsical children’s book character Mary Poppins. “[Her classroom] just had those comfortable aspects to it that made everyone feel like it was for them.”
Hilton Head resident Cherry Baumgartner, who met Cline at community gatherings after the teacher and her husband moved to the area over a year ago, told the publication that Cline was “full of life,” “vibrant” and “vivacious.”
Cline was walking her dog near a lagoon on the island around 9:30 a.m. on Monday when an 8-foot alligator attacked. Officials believe she was protecting her dog when she was attacked and pulled underwater by the alligator, according to the Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office. The dog survived the incident.
David Lucas, of the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, told ABC News that Cline was still alive when she was pulled from the water, but died at the scene.
In the wake of the death, Cline’s friends, family and coworkers have spoken out, recalling the woman’s sweet personality and presence.
“(Cline) was the total package,” McLeod said of her teaching abilities, noting that Cline’s husband wanted everyone to know “how sweet a person she was.”
“And you know, that word, it tends to be overused. But in Casi’s case, that is who she was. She was a very sweet person.”
Cline touched the lives of more than 400 students during her time at the New York school, McLeod said. When she wasn’t reading to the children in her rocking chair, Cline was decorating the classroom with her students’ artwork. She encouraged the children to work in groups and provided hands-on instruction.
The Beaufort County Coroner, Edward Allen, scheduled an autopsy to be performed at the Medical University of South Carolina to determine Cline’s cause death, according to the sheriff’s office. After the incident, the alligator was later found and euthanized, according to ABC.
“I cannot make any sense of what’s happened. None at all. She would never go near an alligator, she would never irritate an alligator,” Meza said. “I just keep thinking about her being dragged away by that,” Meza said. “I just, I just can’t imagine it.”