In the silent hallways of Brooklyn Center’s Odyssey Academy on Friday, two open lockers lined with paper hearts and flowers and notes written in pencil said it all.
“See you in heaven, Alarious,” one note read.
“We miss you Zenavia,” said another.
A day after Odyssey students Zenavia Rennie, 5, and Alarious Coleman-Guerrido, 7, died when a car they were in plunged into a St. Louis Park pond, they were remembered by classmates who struggled with the idea of never seeing them again.
Away from the anxiety and uncertainty at the hospitals where three other children fought for life, the suburban charter school clung to reminders of the vibrancy of a young blended family.
“We made a card for Zenavia,” Ava Bylund, one of Zenavia’s kindergarten classmates, said after school as she walked with her grandmother.
“I’m not going to see Alarious again,” said Ava’s brother, Aiden, a second-grader who was in Alarious’ class. “I hope he’s happy in heaven, but I don’t understand it.”
The four oldest of five children who made up the blended family of Julius Rennie and Marion Guerrido, the 23-year-old mother who escaped from the car, attended Odyssey Academy.
In addition to Zenavia and Alarious, kindergartner Amani Coleman-Guerrido and first-grader Zarihana Rennie weren’t there; they remained hospitalized with their injuries. The family’s youngest child, Aliyana Rennie, 1, also was hospitalized.
In a school that has only 40 children per grade and stresses a family atmosphere, the absences were easily noticed.
“We’ve never had anything like this happen,” said John Sedey, the school’s executive director. “We’ve had parents who have died, somebody in the family shot, things like that, but never anything of this magnitude.”
Sedey said that on Thursday, faculty members waited until the end of the day before announcing, “Our school has suffered a major tragedy. Something bad happened.”
On Friday, a faculty crisis team assembled at 7 a.m. A team of four grief counselors soon arrived, and there were backups, if necessary. The Osseo School District and Robbinsdale Armstrong High School both offered their counselors’ services.
During morning announcements, students were told that teachers would be willing to talk to them. Parents would be sent letters, explaining ways to deal with grief.
“We had a script, a way to explain this,” Sedey said. “But you can’t prepare for something like this. You just can’t.”
He said the school’s older students were the most sorrowful and tearful. Younger students lined the empty lockers with a toy puppy, a smiling sun and notes saying, “We will always love you.”
Absence and silence
At the townhouse complex where many family members live, a neighbor talked about how Zenavia and Amani, both 5, loved to play outside and dig dirt with her own children. Just kids being kids.
For another neighboring family, the events of the week hit too close to home. Members of Julius Rennie’s extended family, including young cousins of three of the victims, quietly requested several days before addressing the media. The saddened and blank expressions that overcame three little boys at the door when they heard their older sister politely decline to talk about the family spoke volumes.
“We’re still grieving,” said Cathie Guerrido, Marion’s mother, who lives with her daughter’s family. “There will be a time to speak. Not now.”
Marion Guerrido had recently started a job at Wells Fargo’s Shoreview phone services center. The bank issued a statement expressing condolences to her family.
And the family was remembered at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in north Minneapolis, where Julius’ children attended last year’s Christmas party, said the Rev. Roger Sonnesyn, who retired from the church in February. “My God, I’m just shocked by the news of the children’s deaths,” he said.
Rick Petry, the family’s attorney, said he hopes there will be “as much emotional and loving support for this family as possible, because it’s just such a rotten deal, such a tragic set of circumstances.
“This is why we all hug our kids every day, and want to know that they’re all right,” he said. “Because they can be there, and then the next day, everything can change.”