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Westmorland mourns girl, 6


Staff Writer

WESTMORLAND — A little girl is dead and the people of this Northend town are mourning her loss the best way they can, by rallying together to provide support for her family.

Six-year-old Jenny Celis died Friday when she was struck by a tractor-trailer rig directly across the road from her home.

By Saturday morning there were memorial fund collection buckets, each bearing the image of the smiling little girl, placed in stores throughout the rural town of 1,500 people.

By Saturday afternoon a makeshift memorial had been set up close to the place where Jenny had died at the intersection of First and South Center streets.


Someone had made a simple cross from timber scraps and painted it pink before placing it at the memorial. Surrounded by flickering votive candles, fresh flowers and small stuffed toys, the cross bore pictures of Jenny and lovingly written notes from people who had known her.

And at Westmorland Union Elementary School, where Jenny was a first-grader, her classmates spent Monday afternoon making cards for the Celis family.

Jenny's teacher, Ivette Lizaola, fought back tears Monday afternoon.

"It was really, really hard coming in this morning and seeing her empty desk."

Lizaola tried hard to retain her composure as she spoke about Jenny, describing her as "a wonderfully helpful and respectful student. She was just a joy to have in the classroom."

Pointing to packages of pastel tissue paper on a desk, Lizaola said her students would be making flowers from the paper and in the center of each paper flower would be placed a photograph of each of Jenny's classmates.

Again, fighting tears, Lizaola said, "Jenny is just one of those students you will always remember — she was always so eager to learn."

The cards and the flowers will be given to Jenny's parents today during visitation at St. Joseph's Catholic Church in Westmorland.

School Principal Linda Morse said a crisis intervention team had been in place since early Monday at the school, ready to counsel students and staff who are having difficulty coping with Jenny's death.

"From talking with the counselors here today, we've been warned that often the first day is the ‘best' day — that you don't see as many children showing emotion — but as the week goes on, we will probably see more.

"We've had a lot of support from (the Imperial County Office of Education) to help us through this difficult time," Morse added.

Morse said she could foresee the school doing something in the near future to commemorate Jenny's life.

"I would like to let the students and staff give some ideas — not just the administration saying, ‘This is what we're going to do' — possibly planting a tree or renaming one of our parks or playing fields out here."

In Lizaola's classroom, three of Jenny's closest friends sat quietly at a table by themselves, working on cards for the Celis family.

Six-year-old Jamie Lizarraga had drawn a detailed picture of a house surrounded by flowers and with two small figures playing amongst the flowers.

Above the house Jamie had written in small, neatly rounded letters:

Jenny was a good friend

I miss Jenny a lot

We used to play with her

It is so sad

I'm going to pray for her

We played hide and seek

>>Staff Writer Jennifer Ralton-Smith can be reached at 337-3442 or

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