ALBANY -- The city's tiny school district of 3,800 students, sandwiched within 1½ square miles, was trying to move past its adversity.
Last week's Homecoming offered high school students a breath of fresh air after the complicated tragedy involving popular Albany Middle School teacher James Izumizaki, 28, who was arrested on suspicion of committing lewd acts on a former student Sept. 26 and then took his own life days later.
Then this week, the body of 16-year-old Albany High School senior honors student Cathy Qiu, 16, of Richmond, was identified on a San Mateo County beach.
"It's a very challenging, somber situation," said Ted Barone, Albany High's principal. "We have a lot of upset young people, that's for sure."
One student walked up to the principal and told him: "It's barely a quarter into the year, but it feels like a whole year has passed."
Grief counselors were brought onto campus Friday, and a prepared statement was read to Barone's students, offering a classroom to share memories of Qiu during lunch. Administrators have had plenty of practice coping with tragedy this school year.
"It's no skill set we really like to have, but it comes in handy," Barone said.
The mystery surrounding Qiu's death has students on edge, waiting to hear news of a cause of death. San Mateo Coroner Robert Foucrault said how the girl died remains undetermined, but there were no indications of foul play.
"There's no correlation that we've found," Albany police Lt. Daniel Adams said of the former teacher's ongoing investigation and Qiu. The police investigation continues, he said.
Qiu was considered a runaway by Richmond police, having previously left for Colorado in April before returning.
About 20 members of the boys and girls tennis club, an informal group that meets after school in the fall, formed a circle after school Friday near the tennis courts, sharing stories and memories of Qiu. A few were hugging each other and crying.
Senior Maya Delany said Qiu was a co-captain of the girls tennis team and had been a team member for three years.
"She was a very big part of our team and very dedicated," Delany said. "We're all really sad."
The campus was shocked when it heard the news Friday.
"She was in one of my classes," senior Edwin Gutierrez said. "She didn't come to class for a while, and then we heard (the news) when the teacher read the daily bulletin today."
Qiu's tennis coach remembered a well-loved and dedicated teammate.
"She was such an important part of the team," Sue Ford said. "That smiling face, she just loved to compete. She was passionate about tennis -- she played hard, and never gave up."
Qiu had participated in a Coast Guard program over the summer, and was perhaps looking to attend the Reserve Officers' Training Corps, Ford said.
"The day before she disappeared, she said she couldn't come to practice," Ford said. "She seemed very happy. It is a big blow."
And yet another blow to the Albany high and middle school campuses, which sit two blocks from each other.
"It's been a very difficult year for the high school, particularly on the heels of Mr. Izumizaki's suicide and the accusations and victims," said Albany Superintendent Marla Stephenson.
It's been the hardest school year since she took over the head post in Albany in 2008, she said.
"By far, by far," she said. "It's hard to believe this little district has had so much tragedy in the space of a few weeks."
Correspondent Rick Radin and Staff Writer Erin Ivie contributed to this report. Contact Matthias Gafni at 925-952-5026. Follow him at Twitter.com/mgafni.