June 19, 2017

Community members gather at Ludlow church to remember eighth grade student

Story and photos by Kathleen Harrington

LUDLOW – When the eighth-graders at Paul R. Baird Middle School graduate today, there will be a student missing. Eren Yanbul died on June 15 when he drowned in a swimming pool. His unexpected death has shocked his classmates and teachers. On Friday, counselors were on hand at the school to help students and faculty.

“It was a very tough day at school,” said teacher Heather Goncalves. Her eighth-grade daughter was in the school play with Eren. “It was the worst day of my life just having to see all the kids so sad. I cried myself – all day.”

To help his classmates to grieve, Baird Middle School drama and chorus teacher Irene Pereira, a member of St. Elizabeth Church in Ludlow, along with Louise Pereira, Our Lady of Fatima parish secretary, coordinated a Celebration of Life service Sunday night at Our Lady of Fatima Church. “We first checked with his family and the imam of his mosque to make certain we were respecting Eren’s faith,” said Irene Pereira.

Eren and his family are from Turkey, part of the growing Muslim population in western Massachusetts. On Sunday morning, his family gathered in Indian Orchard for a traditional Turkish service at the Imam Buhari Mosque. Then, on Sunday evening, several hundred people filled Our Lady of Fatima Church to remember the young student who “had the brightest smile” and “only wanted the best for everyone.”

Father Vitor Oliveira, pastor of Our Lady of Fatima, agreed to open the church to the community. With the help of the pastors of the Catholic churches in Ludlow, through social media, and by word of mouth, the plans for the memorial service spread to the community.

“The Boys and Girls Club let us use their art room. Parents came forward and bought supplies: the ribbons, the safety pins, and glue guns and the kids did all the work,” to make the blue ribbons handed to all who entered the church, explained Saloio.

Another teacher gathered memories written by his classmates and friends. On Sunday, Eren’s teachers lined the stairs to the church as an honor guard to welcome mourners. Among the last to arrive was Eren’s family, extended family, and the imam from his mosque.

Standing before the altar, Father Oliveira greeted them. To the packed church he said, “We come together to celebrate a life.” He went on to explain that he never knew Eren, “but from what you have told me, I’m sorry I didn’t have the chance.”

Speaking to Eren’s classmates, Father Oliveira said that “the love we share is forever until the end of time.”

“A young man full of life and hope, he would have grown to a beautiful adult. That’s what we hope for you,” he told the students. As the crowd stood, the Our Lady of Fatima Choir opened the celebration with the song “This Little Light of Mine.” The upbeat music set the tone for the evening.

The teachers lined up in front of the altar to read the memories written down by Eren’s friends and classmates. Kilie B. wrote,”Eren is an amazing kid who never said a bad word about anyone, and never had a bad word said about him. He put everyone before himself.”

Another student described him as a selfless, caring friend. “Eren had a big heart and he changed my life. He was optimistic and always made everyone feel good.” Avery L. wanted Eren’s parents to know that their son “brought color to my black and white world.”  

While the memories were shared, the Yanbul family listened from the first couple of rows of pews. This type of service for the dead is unlike the customs of the Yanbul family’s faith.    

Among the thoughts from the students was one that was difficult to read. Autumn S. said a Robert Frost poem from English class reminds her of Eren. “Nothing gold can stay and Eren was that gold.” Other stories brought laughter as Eren’s friends recalled the boy who played Lieutenant Ward in the play “Annie,” as well as his love of strawberry milk and the superhero “Flash.”

Teachers also shared their memories. “Every adult was touched by Eren because of his personality. He was a delightful young man who lit up the whole building,” said one teacher. His math teacher loved that Eren wanted to be a math teacher.

The eighth grade chorus gathered before the altar to sing their class song, “Stand by Me.” It’s a song they will sing again today at their graduation ceremony. Passing out small blue hearts, the students asked the members of the congregation to write down a word or two and adhere the heart to a poster board as a gift to Eren’s parents.

As the evening drew to a close, the imam thanked all for coming together on behalf of Eren’s family. Echoing the expression of unity among the faiths, Irene Pereira said, “The greatest gift this young man gave to others was bringing us together in this church tonight.”

The Yanbul family will take Eren back to Turkey for burial.