A playground recovered its innocence in north Minneapolis on Saturday.
That's when a swarm of nearly 300 volunteers — parents, community members, politicians, school officials, employees of a financial services company — spent the day erecting play equipment and picnic tables next to Jenny Lind Elementary School.
Neighbors said the existing play equipment in the adjoining Bohanon Park seemed to get fewer visitors than normal this past summer, affected by a lingering shadow of fear over what happened there soon after the last school year ended.
On June 11, a man fleeing police drove his SUV into the park, barreling across a basketball court and into a swing set. His SUV struck three small children — all part of the same family — who were playing in the park.
The children survived, despite grievous injuries to two of them. On Saturday, family members were back at the school, helping to build a new playground as part of the healing process.
"It's therapeutic to be here to help and be a part of making my children feel safe in a park," said Nicolle Peltier, the mother of seven children who were at the park with their father when the crash occurred.
Peltier helped paint sidewalk games as part of the playground construction project sponsored by the nonprofit KaBOOM!, which helps create play spaces for underserved children across the United States, and the Foresters Financial company.
Peltier said her 2-year-old son, Kayden, who was in the hospital until Aug. 9, is walking and talking again.
"He still has nerve damage, so he'll periodically fall," she said. "He's doing great for being completely run over and having a broken neck."
She said her 4-year-old daughter, Lillianna, is still healing from bruising on the brain. Earlier this month she started kindergarten at Jenny Lind. It was the first time she's seen the park since being run over by the SUV.
Walking up to the school for the first time, "she slowed down, and grabbed Kayden as hard as she could by his wrist, and she pointed over and she said, 'Guys, do you remember? We were hit by a car over there,' " Peltier said. "That was pretty hard to see."
"This is ground zero for trauma for us," Peltier said. But she said therapists told them it could be helpful in the healing process for the family to participate in creating a new, safe space for children to play.
Before the crash that nearly killed Peltier's children, cars have driven across the park, according to Elizabeth Corris, assistant principal at Jenny Lind, who applied for the grant to build the new 2,600-square-foot playground.
In August, the man who ran over Peltier's children, Kabaar W. Powell Jr., was given a 33-month prison sentence.
On Saturday, Peltier helped make sure nothing like this would happen again near Jenny Lind. As she worked on the new playground, she talked to another volunteer, Jim Boyle, the CEO of Foresters Financial.
She asked him if Foresters would help pay for another feature at the park in addition to the climbing dome, the slither slide and the gaga pit. This would be round concrete balls, like you see in front of the entrances to Target stores, that would surround the park. They would act as a barrier against any vehicle that tried to drive through the playground.
Boyle said he would see that it got done.