Sitting on a rock on the playground at Overholser Elementary, Jay DeLeon used short sentences as he talked about his friend, Brandon Sarat-Santos.
He remembered Brandon for his laugh and how fast he could run, and how he and a mutual friend, Miguel, would play soccer during recess. And then the third-grader boiled things down in a way only a kid can.
“I just wish he could come back,” Jay said.
Brandon had just finished the second grade when he was killed in the May 31 storm that caused widespread damage and flooding in Oklahoma City. His sister, Lesly, and younger brother, Christopher, also died in the storm, along with their mother, Yolanda. Christopher was a prekindergarten student and Lesly had completed first grade in the Putnam City School District.
Friday was a day of remembrance at Overholser. There was a tree planting on the playground, but before that students gathered in the gym to watch a slideshow.
Christopher was pictured with his Legos and Brandon with a “Vote for Brandon” sign made for a student election. Lesly was shown wearing a Lorax mustache.
Teachers and students wiped away tears with tissues passed out before the video began.
Counselor Maria Weed said the goal was to recognize the students in the same way they would if school had been in session following the May 31 storm. The fact that school was out at the summer made it hard for teachers to get together to share their grief.
“We were devastated beyond words,” Weed said. “And we couldn't come to school and support each other.”
Weed said Brandon's morning greetings had become a ritual.
“He would always come up to me, whether he was having a bad day or a great day, and he would give me a hug and say, ‘Good morning Miss Weed.' I don't know why he chose me, but I'm glad he did.”
Literacy coach Lisa Linden had hoped Friday would be a day to celebrate but found herself struggling with grief.
“When I woke up this morning, my hope was that it would be a celebration for these children but as it got closer it has been harder,” she said. “I just remember little things about them and missing their little spirits here at school.”