Perhaps it was coincidence that the storm clouds and persistent rain suddenly transformed to beautiful rays of sunlight over Centre Ridge Elementary, just before 1 p.m., on Thursday, June 19.
Those in attendance at a memorial dedication ceremony for three young brothers chose to believe otherwise. The dedication honored Brad, Ryan and Kyle Edwards, 9, 7 and 5, respectively — Centre Ridge students who tragically lost their lives in April after their father shot them and then turned the gun on himself.
Through generous contributions from the school and community, a landscaped area including three flowering plum trees and a large inscribed boulder was built on school grounds to commemorate and honor their young lives.
Joyce Dantzler, Centre Ridge principal, coordinated a heartfelt program that included performances by classmates of all three students. After the Presentation of the Colors, Kyle's kindergarten class led everyone in the "Pledge of Allegiance." Ryan's first-grade class sang, "Remembering You," and a classical melody was performed by Brad's fourth-grade strings group.
Dantzler welcomed family members of the boys, including their mother Debbie Edwards, and other invited guests. The program was videotaped and shown on closed-circuit TV to the rest of the school, that afternoon.
Dantzler explained the meaning of the word "memorial" to all 1,060 students as "an opportunity to help remember our friends Brad, Ryan, and Kyle." She reminded everyone of her back-to-school-night speech in September in which she described her academic mission for the school year using the theme of "strength through support" and "the mighty redwood trees."
Dantzler said redwood trees have been the symbol of support throughout the entire school year at Centre Ridge. "These trees, known for their height, have fairly shallow roots that tend to stay close to the surface, while interlocking with neighboring trees," she said. "Thus, the entire redwood forest will remain interconnected or anchored to each other."
"Again today, we find that trees will be yet another symbol of our everlasting friendship with Brad, Ryan and Kyle Edwards," she continued. "When we stand together — support one another, encourage one another, care for one another — we become strong together and, like the giant redwood trees, we keep growing taller and stronger."
PTA President Ruth Sendrowski described the creation of the landscaped memorial as a collaborative effort where "every thought was inspired by memories of Brad, Ryan and Kyle."
The location was chosen because of its visibility to all who walk or drive by the school. Sendrowski said Centre Ridge's new playground and large athletic fields will serve as "splendid backdrops to the memorial and a wonderful tribute to these three boys who were fun-loving little athletes."
She said the plum trees were chosen not only for their striking foliage, but because they blossom in April — "a month we will all hold dear. Their blossoms are pink — which reflect the boys' favorite color of hot pink. The blooms will eventually change to white, symbolizing their innocence and purity. As the trees grow, their branches will intermingle as a reminder of the unique love and brotherhood shared by Brad, Ryan and Kyle. In choosing the boulder, we could actually envision the boys — in their rough-and-tumble way — playing on it."
The inscription on the boulder, composed by Dantzler and the boys' teachers, reads "Remembering our Friends — Brad, Ryan and Kyle Edwards — 2003." The student council chose a sprinkling of flowers in the school colors of yellow and blue to represent the love shared by the entire student body. At the base of the boulder, hot-pink flowers were gently nestled under their mom's favorite color of purple.
Words of appreciation were extended to those in the Centreville community who contributed toward the tree memorial. Special recognition went to: Lori Esau, a Centre Ridge parent, for her artistic contributions in establishing the memorial-area plan; Mandy Waters of Luck Stone in Sterling, for arranging the boulder donation; Rick Burroughs of Kline Memorials in Manassas, who inscribed the message on the boulder and delivered and installed it; and Byron Vorce of J. Byron Landscaping in Vienna, for coordinating the donation of the plum trees and creating the landscaped area.
Also thanked were the many families who contributed to the memorial fund, plus Centre Ridge's PTA, teachers and staff. Dantzler was also thanked for her steadfast leadership and guidance throughout this particularly challenging school year. After the memorial dedication, Brad's fourth-grade class sang the school song, "The Halls of Centre Ridge."
Dantzler then said, "We will remember the Edwards brothers fondly for their kindness, thoughtfulness, willingness to help others, respectful behavior and positive attitude toward learning. Kyle, Ryan and Brad were good citizens and role models in our school. We will miss them, but never forget them."
This article was written by PTA President Ruth Sendrowski.