"A BEAUTIFUL girl, inside and out" is just one of hundreds of tributes paid to an 18-year-old whose sudden death has left her family and friends grief-stricken.
Aspiring fashion journalist Emily Higgs loved life, was bursting with energy and was a keen dancer. On Thursday, the Brentwood Ursuline Convent High School sixth former should have been picking up her AS level results.
Yet it was not to be and the 850 people who attended her funeral, and the huge outpouring of grief on Twitter showed just show how popular she was.
Many of the comments remark on her beauty and she was told by an award-winning photographer just weeks before her death that she had the potential to be a model.
Emily Squibb (@squibbe14) wrote: "Emily Higgs. In my heart. Forever and always. Rest in peace you beautiful angel," while Lindsay McLachlan (@lindsmclachlan) left the message: "So unfair for someone so young and beautiful to be taken from us :( RIP Emily Higgs." On Facebook, meanwhile, a tribute page entitled "Beautiful Emily Higgs" has been set up – a group which at the time of going to press had 217 members.
Two videos paying homage to the teenager's life have also been posted on You Tube, clocking up almost 600 views to date.
Her mother, Michelle, 44, told the Gazette how she has lost a beautiful daughter and her "best friend".
On the day they laid Emily to rest in Romford, her father, Paul, 48, paid an emotional tribute to her.
"There is just a very big hole in my heart that I am slowly filling with the most amazing memories that I have and will always have of Emily," he said.
From the family home in Stapleford Abbotts, near Ongar, Paul explained how Emily would always put other people first.
He said: "She was supportive of everyone and anyone who needed help. She stood up for the underdog and helped anyone.
"She was confident and she always had time to listen to other people and would help them in her own way."
Her 21-year-old brother Jack cried as he mustered the words to describe her. "She was my world," he said. "There are no words that you can say that will sum her up as a sister. She was everything to me."
In July last year, Emily contracted E. coli and a urinary tract infection, but she recovered and in September she was back at school studying for her photography, media studies and English literature AS levels.
However, just weeks later, during the October half-term, her health started to decline once more.
She began being sick after every meal and was diagnosed with Gastroparesis, a weakness of the stomach muscles which results in slow emptying of food from the stomach into the small intestine.
The fatigue brought on by the illness caused her pain, according to Michelle, who broke down in tears as she explained how the tragic last weeks of her daughter's life unfolded.
She said: "They tried to treat her with medication and she was due to start a long course of antibiotics and we spoke to a surgeon about the possibility of her having a pacemaker fitted in her stomach to regulate the stomach contractions."
Even the day before her death, Emily was enjoying life with a family day out in London. She sent a message to Twitter, which read: "Me and my beautiful mummy walking through Kensington."
Yet the following morning, on August 6, at around 6.30am, cousins of Emily who were visiting from America and sharing her bedroom raised the alarm as she began breathing unusually in bed.
For two and a half hours paramedics, and later staff at Queen's Hospital in Romford, tried to save her. However, she died from heart failure and it is thought she went into cardiac arrest because of the level of stress caused by her stomach condition.
Michelle said: "She was my best friend. I was, of course, her mum and she knew the boundaries, but she would talk to me about everything.
"I am so grateful we had 18 beautiful years together, but I miss her more than words can say."