Students at a west Columbia elementary school dedicated a garden at the school and a tree in Israel yesterday to their classmate Simon Decker, who was crushed by a garage door 12 days before school started in August.
"The outpouring from the community is a bit overwhelming," said the 9-year-old boy's father, Gregory Decker, through his tears. "We joke about it, but the truth is, Simon knew more people than we do. That's the kind of person he was."
It was the first visit to Clemens Crossing Elementary School since Simon's death for Mr. Decker, his wife, Deborah, and their 12-year-old son, Nathaniel, who attended a brief memorial ceremony in the cafeteria yesterday morning.
School staff members and 150 third-graders who would have been Simon's classmates this year unveiled a bronze plaque in a 25-square-foot garden next to the school's main entrance on Quarter Staff Road.
The plaque reads: "Dedicated in Memory of Simon Decker," and is surrounded by an arrangement of white and red roses and baby's breath and miniature Maryland, American and Israeli flags.
In addition, Simon's classmates and their parents arranged for a tree to be planted in a children's garden in Israel, said Tony Yount, the assistant principal and organizer of the ceremony.
"In the Jewish tradition, living memorials are very important," said Mr. Yount. "He was such an alive child, we thought a garden would allow him to be with us."
About $200 was donated in the boy's memory to the Howard County General Hospital Fund, said Mr. Yount.
The event -- almost four months to the day since the accident -- had been in the works since September, said Principal Jackie Lazarewicz.
"We did it for the kids. We got to say 'goodbye' officially," she said.
Simon suffered fatal injuries on the evening of Aug. 16, when he was struck on the head by an automatic garage door at his home in Hickory Ridge village and pinned to the driveway. He died later at Howard County General Hospital.
Deaths attributed to automatic garage doors are extremely rare.
Victims usually are children between the ages of 2 and 14, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.
The Columbia death involved a door made in 1975 and sold between 1975 and 1979 -- long before regulations were adopted in 1993 requiring safety devices to prevent such injuries.
Older doors still in operation can be retrofitted with safety devices.
At yesterday's ceremony, students sang, read poems and presented a bouquet of flowers and a memory book of photos to the family.
An assistant to County Executive Charles I. Ecker gave the family a proclamation declaring yesterday Simon Decker Day in Howard County. Sandra French, a member of the county Board of Education, also attended.
"We always quote the African proverb, 'It takes a whole village to raise one child,' " she said. "Well, a whole village grieves when we lose a child. I didn't know the Deckers or Simon personally, but we treasure him as much as every child in the school system."
The service proved an emotional event for Simon's parents, who witnessed the unveiling of the memorial plaque after the ceremony and snapped pictures of his brother Nathaniel beside the marker.
"The students really miss Simon. They worked very hard," Mrs. Decker said. "He was a special addition to their class."