For some children, Natalie Zellers’ reputation preceded her.
That’s why they came through registration at Washington Center Elementary on Monday with tears in their eyes, knowing that they were supposed to have her for a teacher but never would.
Some who already had the 38-year-old for second grade also cried, as did her co-workers, knowing there would be a void at the school this year.
“Natalie was just a super cheerful person,” Washington Center Principal Dee Dee Larkey said.
Zellers fell from a boat in Silver Lake on Sunday evening, went under the water and never resurfaced. Divers pulled her body from 22 feet of water three hours later. Investigators are still looking into what caused her death.
Counselors from the Boen Center were on hand Sunday and Monday to help console her co-workers. The school is currently figuring out a plan to help with the students, who begin school in about two weeks.
Zellers taught second grade at Washington Center for four years. Before that, she taught at Maplewood Elementary.
“She cared about her school and cared about her classroom,” Larkey said, adding that she treated the children in her classroom as if they were her own.
Natalie’s husband, Brett, would even come to her classroom dressed as Dr. Seuss’ Cat in the Hat and read to her students, Larkey said.
She was with her husband at Silver Lake when she died.
The Zellerses were swimming from a boat at the north end of the lake at around 6 p.m. Sunday while wearing life jackets, according to the Indiana Department of Conservation. The Zellerses swam back to the boat and, upon climbing into it, took off their life jackets. Natalie was standing on the front of the boat when she somehow fell backwards into the water, according to the DNR.
Brett attempted to rescue her while others called emergency dispatchers.
Conservation officers used sonar technology to locate her body at the bottom of the lake and divers pulled her body from the water about 9 p.m.
Several other law enforcement agencies also helped in the attempted rescue.
An autopsy has been performed but Zellers’ cause of death has not been released.
“We are looking into alcohol as a possible factor,” said Officer Jonathon Boyd of the DNR. “People were drinking, so we’re investigating that as a possible cause.”