A tree was planted, a song was sung, a bench was unveiled and a special reading “nook” built inside the library at Meadows Elementary School, all in honor of two students and their parents who perished last month when the family’s SUV was swept away by flooded river.
More than 600 teachers, students and parents gathered at the Valencia school Friday afternoon for a celebration of life honoring the four deceased members of the Thottapilly family — the father, Sandeep, 42; mother, Soumya, 38; son, Siddhant, 12; and 9-year-old daughter Saachi.
Battling through tears, teachers one by one shared the moments they had with “Sid” and Saachi.
Under an arc of white balloons, a teary Meadows Principal Kim Sorenson told the group: “Today is a celebration of life, to honor this sweet family.”
Saachi, remembered as an avid reader who demonstrated daily that she cared for others, was described by her teacher Lisa Johnson as “confident, yet polite, articulate and expressive and a very good listener.
“She left quite an impression on me,” Johnson said. “ She became a leader in our classroom. She didn’t like it when friends bickered and didn’t get along. She celebrated their successes. I am the one who learned from Saachi.”
Because the little girl was such an avid reader, teacher Michelle Vasquez announced that a special reading area, called the nook, would be built in the school’s library in her honor.
“She would have loved it,” Vasquez said.
About Saachi’s brother, Sid, teachers and classmates recalled an extremely intelligent, creative boy who graduated from Meadows last year and wanted to become a chemist.
Michelle Fusner, Sid’s teacher, said: “No matter what I come up with, it will never be enough.
“My heart aches,” she said. “To think he will never come back and tell me if he still wanted to be a chemist not.”
Teacher Lynn Shafarman, who also taught Sid, described him as “ a little bit shy but always with a smile. And, behind the smile was a brilliant mind.”
“He was so smart he would challenge teachers who had to look up the answer,” said one of Sid’s classmates, sharing with attendees about how Sid would play “Star Wars” in the grassy shaded areas of the school.
Remembering Sid in that context, the school carried out a tree-planting on school property. A memorial plate with Sid’s name on it was to be inserted at the base of the tree.
A bench also was positioned at the front of the school in the children’s memory.
A song written for Sachi by one of the girl’s classmates and that child’s father, called “Saachi’s Song (A Light of Love).”
Among those joining in the celebration of life were relatives of the Thottapilly family who arrived from India, some from Canada.
The Thottapilly’s SUV was witnessed traveling off of US-101 in Leggett, Calif., last month near mile post marker 95, before becoming submerged into the Eel River during a storm.