It’s the first week of school for students at Franklin Elementary School, but, more important for many of them, last Friday marked the one-year anniversary of the death of their peer, Jaciel Tellez. To honor his passing, 4th, 5th, and 6th grade students created a memorial mosaic, depicting a flying eagle (the school’s mascot) grasping a bright red book.
Tellez was killed with his parents in their upper State Street home when a large truck, heading down Highway 154, lost its brakes and slammed into the small dwelling. The driver, initially charged with three counts felony vehicular manslaughter, later pleaded no contest to reduced misdemeanor charges.
The mosaic was unveiled in an afternoon ceremony, attended by the entire student body. Franklin's principal, Casie Killgore, spoke with watery eyes of Tellez and the mural dedicated in his honor. She said two of her students were extremely sad that they couldn’t be with their classmate anymore, but were happy that he now gets to watch Cartoon Network as much as he wants.
Killgore also explained that the mosaic was placed outside so that anyone, especially family and friends, could come by and see the memorial regardless of whether or not school is in session.
Tellez's teacher, Susan Pico, addressed the students with a few words of her own before Tellez’s aunt came up with two of his cousins and made a short, emotional speech in Spanish. She said she was saddened to look back on her nephew’s death, yet happy to see what his classmates had made for him. The Eagle Rockers, the school’s rock band comprised of three 8- to 9-year-old students, played “Stand By Me” during the ceremony.
The designers of the art piece also chose to create a separate plaque with a flower mosaic Tellez made when he was in second grade. “He was just a full spirit — a really positive little boy,” Killgore said. The principal said she was close to his mother, who often volunteered at the school.
“Its good to see all these smiling kids back in school, but one face is missing," remarked School Board administrator Barbara Keyani. "That’s what’s so sad."