Lynchburg, VA - On Tuesday, the Heritage Elementary family planted a tree in memory of a 9-year-old boy who never made it to second grade.
Kevin Penaloza died in August after he was run over by a car on Timberlake Road in front of the Wooden Chair. Police say his own mother and three sisters were with him on August 3 when it happened.
On Tuesday, two of his sisters, who still attend Heritage Elementary, picked up shovels while all of their classmates watched.
"We love every child who comes through our doors. And when our families hurt, we hurt," Principal Sharon Anderson said after the dedication ceremony.
The October Glory Maple, planted next to the school's brand new playground, is another sad reminder for teachers: Sometimes childhood innocence and loss can intersect.
"He walked in every morning smiling and was just so full of life," Collet Green said of her former student.
Teachers and classmates say Penaloza transferred to Heritage Elementary one year ago, loved super heroes and lit up Mrs. Stark's first grade classroom.
Carolyn Deane, another teacher, says some of his classmates have asked what happened.
"We've just told them that he's gone to heaven and that we all loved him," she said.
Students and staff held a moment of silence and read poems to remember Penaloza, the rising star put out too early.
"This tree will forever mark the place where Kevin's spirit still lives on. Hence, his memory will never truly be gone," read one counselor at the ceremony.