Outside Eugene Field Elementary School, hundreds of children assembled in rows clutch green balloons. When one balloon floats off early, a roar of little voices erupts. The children are there to honor classmate Evelyn De Los Santos.
A child in Evelyn's kindergarten class holds a balloon close to her face. A tear rolls down her cheek as the school choir begins to sing.
Police say Evelyn's father, Juan De Los Santos, 46, shot Evelyn, 5, and her mother, Claudia Aguilar, 35, before turning the gun on himself March 13 at their home, 1925 NW 15.
Last week at the house, a yellow and red toy car is overturned in the yard. Mail is in the mailbox. A silver slipper lies on the ground in front of a rundown porch.
The events that occurred there are too painful for family members who live in the neighborhood to talk about, they said. Relatives told police Juan De Los Santos and Aguilar were estranged, going through a divorce at the time of the shootings.
Evelyn's death devastated the close-knit school of 537 prekindergarten through fifth-grade students.
“This is a neighborhood school, and she had several family members here,” said Principal Paige Bressman. “It did not just affect her class, it affected the entire school. The kids were very sad. They talked about it a lot.”
The students and staff at Eugene Field, 1515 N Klein Ave., wanted to honor Evelyn.
All of the children who attend the school qualify for federal nutrition programs based on family income. But in early May, they collected more than $900 in a penny drive to donate to Positive Tomorrows, an Oklahoma City organization that educates homeless children. The money also was used to purchase a plaque to place on a bench in memory of their classmate.
Coping with loss
Vicky Watson's class of 22 learned how to read and write this year, said the veteran teacher who had Evelyn in her class. Watson said the 5- and 6-year-olds are a close group that included two of Evelyn's cousins. It's made the loss particularly hard.
“She was a beautiful child. She really was. She was just very sweet and very kind to the children in the class,” Watson said. “If anyone needed help, she was always there. She participated and had a lot of friends.”
Watson said the penny drive helped Evelyn's class cope with her death.
“I think that has been the very best thing for them,” she said. “If they're not able to express themselves in some way, they have through the pennies.”
The days following Evelyn's death, the school brought in counselors to explain she had died, though the counselors did not discuss the details with the children. Her classmates drew pictures of happy memories with Evelyn. Evelyn and a friend, holding hands in a heart. Evelyn and a friend, sliding down the slide.
The school's secretary, Joyce Thomas, collected the memories, along with photos, a poem and Santos' burgeoning writing, into a scrapbook to give to her family at the May 11 assembly honoring Evelyn's life.
It includes a page of Santos' words, where she describes her “yellow flower growen up.”
Thomas told the assembly she learned a lot about the little girl while she pieced together the book. She loved flowers and going to the park with her mother, Thomas said. She recalled the smile on her face each day when she walked to school, hand in hand with an older brother.
“The heavens have gained another angel, and her name is Evelyn,” she told the crowd.
Then children, teachers, school officials and family members released hundreds of balloons into the sky.