West Jordan school remembers classmates gone too soon
They were only kindergartners.
Sierra Newbold loved to draw, dance and play on her soccer team, Orange Crush. Daniel Allen enjoyed making crafts, dinosaurs and anything connected to Disney's "Cars."
Both were students at West Jordan Elementary School. Both had their lives taken too soon. And that's left a void in the hearts of their classmates, who started a new school year still trying to comprehend the loss of friends who died so young.
Students will gather Friday to honor Newbold and Allen at a ceremony outside the school, 7220 S. 2370 West. A memorial bench will be dedicated to Sierra, 6, who was kidnapped and murdered on June 26. Nearby, a memorial plaque will be unveiled for Daniel, 7, who died Aug. 25, 2011, after a two-year battle with brain cancer.
"Overall, above anything, we want this to be an expression of our support and love for the two families," said Norm Emerson, the school's principal. "We want the students who knew Daniel and Sierra to have something that provides a positive memory."
Following the deaths of Newbold and Allen, grief counselors were on hand to talk to students about their feelings.
The details of Newbold's death shocked and horrified the community. The girl was abducted from her home, then beaten, raped, strangled and thrown into the canal, where she drowned, according to court documents. Terry Lee Black, a 41-year-old who lived about a block from Sierra's home, has been charged with the crime and is awaiting trial.
Because Newbold died over the summer, some of her kindergarten classmates weren't aware of the case, said the girl's teacher, Linda Christensen. Others attended a candlelight vigil at the school where counselors were on hand to help parents bridge the delicate topic of the girl's death with their children.
In Daniel's case, classmates supported him through his cancer treatment, said his teacher, Bonnie Lougy.
The boy was diagnosed with medulloblastoma on Aug. 20, 2009, but doctors believed Daniel had a good chance of beating the disease with surgery, radiation and chemotherapy. In September 2010, it appeared that Daniel had no visible cancer cells in his body and his family celebrated what appeared to be a recovery. But in a follow-up exam in July 2011, an MRI showed Daniel's cancer had returned, and he was only given two months to live.
The news was difficult for Daniel's classmates, who adored his fun-loving nature and upbeat attitude. Although Daniel attended kindergarten with his mother or another relative in tow because he was so ill and eventually attended classes via Skype classmates were drawn to him, Lougy said.
"He had the cutest, bubbly, positive personality," said Lougy. "You would think he would be in the back of the class, not participating [because he was so sick]. But he was up with the whole class; everybody just loved him."
As Daniel's illness worsened, classmates attended fundraisers for him. Many attended a party for him in the weeks before he died, where they had a chance to make memories while playing. Lougy said she visited Daniel often and last saw him the night before he died.
She still chokes up recalling how Daniel would tell him mom, "We really love each other, huh mom," when the two accompanied each other to school. As Daniel became sicker, he struggled to speak, said Lougy. And the sentence became shortened to simply "love each other."
Lougy said she's grateful her students are left with Daniel's message to care for one another and said Friday's memorial will be a chance to pay tribute to him.
"I think it will be great for the kids. Daniel really gave so much to the school and community," said Lougy. "It will be healing."
Sierra's younger sister is a kindergarten student in Christensen's class this year, she said. This week, the girl was asked in class to tell her classmates what made her special.
"She said, 'My sister died,' " said Christensen, adding that having Sierra's sister in class has been a part of her own healing process. "I think it's helping me, I hope I'm helping her. She knows I know her sister. And I think that's peaceful for her. I know Sierra and love Sierra, and we share that."
At Friday's ceremony, Christensen will remember Sierra, who was a good reader, writer and artist, she said. Everywhere Sierra sat in the classroom, she would be sitting by a best friend because everyone was her friend, she said.
Remembering Sierra will also give parents, who know the difficult details of the girl's death, a chance to continue grieving, said Christensen.
"Little children are usually full of faith and acceptance, and they just deal with things differently than adults," said Christensen. "It's been extremely hard on the community. It will be good for the community to have a place to remember her."
If you go
What • Memorial ceremony for Sierra Newbold and Daniel Allen
When • Friday, 1 p.m.
Where • West Jordan Elementary School, 7720 S. 2370 West
Why • A memorial bench was crafted and donated by a father with children who attend West Jordan Elementary. The bench will be dedicated to Sierra Newbold; a plaque will honor Daniel Allen.