GRIFFITH — An 18-year-old Portage High School student killed Wednesday in a shooting was described as "smart" and "outgoing."
Police learned Alayna Ortiz, an occupant in a vehicle, had been shot while at the Park West Apartment complex after the driver of that vehicle pulled up to officers parked in the nearby Mansards Plaza shopping center about 9 p.m., according to the Lake County coroner's office and Griffith police.
Ortiz's family remembers her as a kind-hearted young woman full of love.
"Anyone who knew Alayna knows that she was a very open, friendly person, and when she trusted you, she trusted you with everything," Amanda Riffett, Alayna's mother, said. "And when she loved you, she loved you with everything in her heart."
Ortiz, of South Haven, was taken by ambulance to Methodist Hospitals Northlake Campus in Gary, where she was pronounced dead at 9:47 p.m. from a gunshot wound. Her death was ruled a homicide.
"Alayna was an incredibly smart, outgoing and beautiful young lady," said Abagail Trzeciak, a social studies teacher at PHS. "She had a fiery personality and did everything with confidence. Alayna will be missed by everyone at Portage High School and Northwest Indiana."
Portage Townships Schools was mourning Ortiz's death, a district spokeswoman said.
"A crisis team to include guidance counselors and school advisers will be available for our students who need to express their grief during this difficult loss," communications director Melissa Deavers-Lowie said.
"We extend our deepest sympathies to this student's family and friends, and we ask that you keep them in your thoughts," she said.
Parents should contact the high school's guidance office at 219-764-6040 if they they think their child needs assistance.
A Griffith officer working at the Park West Apartments heard what sounded like a car crash in the 1800 block of North Arbogast Street and went to investigate, Martin said.
The officer saw a vehicle speed away, turn onto Ridge Road and pull into Mansards Plaza, where the other officers working a separate detail were parked, he said.
Police called an ambulance for Ortiz. The other people in the car with her were questioned and released, Martin said. No other injuries were reported.
Police think the driver of the vehicle in which Ortiz was riding struck several small barriers while attempting to escape during the shooting, Martin said.
Police collected physical evidence, eyewitnesses accounts and video footage from the scene and were following up on leads early Thursday.
There are 20 to 25 investigators from the Griffith Police Department and Northwest Indiana Major Crimes Task Force currently working on the case, Griffith police Cmdr. Keith Martin said.
Anyone with information about the homicide is asked to call Griffith police at 219-924-7503, ext. 252. To remain anonymous, call 219-922-3085.
Ortiz's homicide marks the first in Griffith since 2014, when Remanard Castro, 55, fatally shot his estranged wife Nina Castro, 42, in front of her teenage children in the parking lot at St. Mary's School.
Check back at nwi.com for updates as this story develops.
Times staff writer Joyce Russell contributed to this story.