For a boy described as quiet and shy, 7-year-old Roberto Avalos boasted surprisingly eye-catching hairstyles that were a hit among his classmates and friends.
His style of choice: a Mohawk spray-painted green, his favorite color.
The color was featured during a ceremony in Roberto's memory Friday at Coolidge Elementary School. Administrators, family and classmates released 30 green balloons to honor the first-grader killed in a house fire last month. They also planted a tree as a memorial.
Before releasing the balloons, first-grade teacher Jordan Mills asked the students to tell the balloon what they would say to Roberto if he were there.
“I said that he was a nice friend, that I miss him and that I wished he was alive,” said Gabe Hunter, 7.
Gabe was one of Roberto's best friends. He remembered how much Roberto loved basketball and how they played together at recess.
“It was always fun whenever he was around,” Gabe said.
Roberto's mother, Noemi Lopez, said her athletic son also loved soccer and karate. He would have started football in June. He tried to pass on this love for sports to his baby brother, Manny, 2.
“He was trying to show Manny how to dribble,” Lopez said.
A protective older brother, Roberto told his mom that he wanted to pick up Manny outside his classroom when he started preschool next year.
Although Roberto was quiet around new people, Lopez said he wasn't so reserved at home, often filling the rooms with his music and cartoons.
“He was always the joy of the house,” Lopez said.
Roberto was home alone the night of April 28 when there was a fire at his house at 2535 SW 51. He was taken to the hospital where he died. Police said the house had been burglarized, and the fire was related to the burglary. Two people have been arrested and charged with first-degree murder in the case.
When Mills told her 19 first-graders about the fire, she said they were shocked. But it didn't take them long to decide they wanted to leave Roberto's desk exactly the way it was until the end of the school year. They covered it with flowers.
Classmate Jose Cardiel, 7, said he will miss Roberto's generosity. Jose said Roberto would let him borrow his books.
After Jose learned Monday of an EF5 tornado hitting an elementary just 20 minutes away, he thought about his friend who once sat next to him in class.
“When I heard about the tornado, I cried about Roberto because I miss him,” Jose said.
Coolidge Principal Annette Williams said everyone at the school misses the first-grader. In his memory, students raised $500 to purchase the tree, flowers and bronze plaque that will soon bear Roberto's name in a memory garden.
For Roberto's father, Roberto Avalos Sr., the tree and plaque are meaningful ways to remember his son.
“It meant a lot that the tree is always going to be there and that they put a plaque on it,” Avalos said.
Years from now, the spindly Chinese Pistache tree planted in front of the school could reach as high as 50 feet. Gabe said he can't wait to hold onto its branches.
“I'll climb it all the time if they'll let me,” Gabe said. “I bet my friend Roberto would have liked climbing that tree, too.”