SACKVILLE, N.B. – Take a walk around the school yard at Marshview Middle and there isn’t much around to indicate the playground there was once named in memory of a 12-year-old boy.
And that fact certainly doesn’t escape the boy’s family and friends, who are disappointed that even the plaque that bore Larry Mills Jr.'s name and was fixed to a piece of playground equipment during a dedication ceremony in his honour nearly 22 years ago, was removed several years ago and never put back up.
In fact, the plaque is now in the hands of Larry Jr’s father, rescued from a pile of stuff relegated to the school’s basement and believed to be destined for the trash before a school employee retrieved it for Larry Mills Sr.
“That was supposed to be there forever . . . .or at least that’s what I thought,” said Larry in an interview from his home in Fredericton. “It was a memorial; it’s supposed to be there for life.”
Larry said he isn’t sure of the date but he recalls several years ago being told by the school employee that the school administrators at that time had asked him to go through the pile in the basement and “throw stuff out.” Instead, he saved the plaque and called up a family member to return it to Larry.
Larry said he finds it frustrating that he was never notified of the plaque being taken down in the first place and feels that his son was not a “big enough name” in the town for the school to consider putting the plaque back up.
“It’s almost like they turned their back on him,” said Larry.
“I want people to remember my son. I don’t want him forgotten. His friends don’t want that either. We always want to remember him.”
“I still cry a lot. I miss my son every single day. Yes it’s been 23 years but losing a child is not something you get over. It destroys your life.”
– Larry Mills Sr.
Becky Goodwin, a former classmate of Larry Jr., said she was heartbroken when she realized a couple years ago that the plaque had been taken down. She doesn’t recall the exact date either but she does remember how hurt she was.
“The first time I noticed the memorial gone, my heart stopped a little. It felt like the only piece we had left of our classmate was gone for good, thrown away like it meant nothing,” she said.
Speaking on behalf of the school district, Heather Stordy, acting community engagement coordinator of Anglophone East, said after talking this week with the Marshview staff involved, it was learned that the playground equipment on which the plaque was initially installed was removed from the site about nine years ago, as it no longer met proper safety standards and was deteriorating.
Stordy said a district staff member at the time carefully removed the plaque from the aging plexiglass, “being careful to preserve it.” It was then placed in a safe storage area at the school.
“Although preliminary plans were discussed as far as adding new playground equipment, nothing new was added,” said Stordy.
She said approximately five years ago, a family member contacted the school to inquire about the plaque and staff knew exactly where it was in safe keeping and returned it to the family.
Stordy said the school is now working with a representative of the family on a plan to get the plaque back and to honour this student at Marshview Middle School.
Goodwin said the removal of the plaque, and the fact that it hadn't been re-installed, was inconsiderate.
“It was our tribute to him and the idea was for it to be there forever.”
She recalls the devastation she felt back in November 1995 when she heard her 12-year-old classmate had been murdered along with his mother Mary Lou Barnes in their home in British Settlement. Those are words no 12-year-old should ever have to hear, she said.
“That day plays vividly in my mind frequently, a day many of us classmates won’t ever forget,” said Goodwin. “But we stuck together. Even after all these years, he is still alive in our hearts and he will never be forgotten.”
Several months following their death, Marshview staff initiated the idea of a playground memorial to help students and teachers cope with their loss. Students had helped decide on the project because they recalled Larry’s fondness of the playground; he had liked the existing equipment and they wanted to perhaps add another piece.
A playground fund was set up and over the next few months, more than $15,000 was raised for the new equipment. The dedication was held on June 1, 1996.
Goodwin said when the memorial was installed at Marshview in memory of Larry Jr, “it was our sunshine on a cloudy memory,” and served as “a place where us as classmates could come together to remember the bubbly, happy soul that he was.”
But it wasn’t only for students back then, she insisted.
“It was for the future students of Marshview who would have a fun place to play as well as a place where us as adults now, could go and watch our own kids play and go back to a happier time when our classmate was out running around the playground.”
“Larry Jr. was a student at Marshview whose life was cut too short and the playground equipment and memorial plaque was our way of keeping his memory alive for generations to come. To have (the former) administration just throw that away like it means nothing is hurtful as a classmate and I can only imagine how hurtful it was to his family,” said Goodwin.
Larry Sr. said the memorial had given him a bit of a solace in a time of such heartache and pain and he was heartened by the community’s support of the project.
“That playground, they raised a lot of money to make sure that happened . . . it was absolutely fantastic for the people to do that. That should never have been taken down.”
Larry said he’s not sure why he didn’t pursue the reasons behind it when the plaque was given to him but recent news of the possibility of Marshview Middle School’s closure brought all his anger back again.
“My first thought was, oh my God, they’re going to tear the school down,” he said, noting he doesn’t want his son’s memorial playground to be completely abandoned.
Mills said there is still not a day that goes by that he doesn’t think of his son.
“I still cry a lot. I miss my son every single day,” he said. “Yes it’s been 23 years but losing a child is not something you get over. It destroys your life.”