The thing that's so hard to take about the death of an 18-year-old Clemson freshman who died of a sudden infection Sunday is that she was so sunny and full of life, according to her friends.

Virginia Gilliam, a Wando High School graduate enjoying her first week of college, started feeling weak Wednesday. She was taken to the hospital Saturday and died Sunday morning.

Her friends said she died of a urinary tract infection that became septic, although the family declined to comment on her cause of death.

At least 500 people overflowed the fellowship hall at Mount Pleasant Presbyterian Church Tuesday night, forming a line that stretched around the porch and extended more than a block down Hibben Street.

Caroline Yodice of Mount Pleasant, Gilliam's best friend since childhood, was standing outside by herself.

"You never met anybody as happy as she was," Yodice said. "Everything she did, she just did it with a smile."

Gilliam sang with the Wando High School chorus, swam on the Hobcaw Swim team and worked as a lifeguard.

She planned to work with special-needs children after graduation from Clemson.

Yodice and a group of friends spent Saturday at Gilliam's bedside, even though she was unconscious.

"We talked to her, we sang to her," she said. "A friend texted me that her entire hallway at her dorm at Clemson was outside in the hallway praying."

They went home that night hoping she was improving. She died Sunday morning.

"She was that light in the world that everyone needs," Yodice said. "I like to think I didn't lose a sister, I just gained an angel, because she was an angel on earth, and now she's finally in heaven as an angel."

Katie Quinn of Mount Pleasant was Gilliam's roommate at Clemson.

"She had a joyful smile, the way she lit up a room when she got excited about Clemson football," she said. "She just had a way of making everyone feel welcome."

Gilliam's father, Herbert Gilliam, was too busy greeting well-wishers to talk much to a reporter. But he said he was not surprised by the crowd. "She was a very special girl," he said.

She is survived by her parents, Herbert and Susan Gilliam, and two sisters, Sarah Katherine Gilliam and Anna Grace Gilliam, all of Mount Pleasant.

Her funeral is set for 4 p.m. Wednesday in The Church at LifePark, 1151 George Browder Blvd. She will be buried in Mount Pleasant Memorial Gardens.

Reach Dave Munday at 937-5553.