Family, friends, classmates hold vigil for Oregon first-grader

OREGON – Family, friends, and classmates of Nathaniel Burton held candles and glow sticks as they stood in front of his elementary school Tuesday night.

“My twins are in his class,” said Kristi Guentert as she waited for the vigil to begin. “They took it hard the first day when they found out, but everything the classroom has been doing has been helping.”

Nathaniel, son of Bryan E. and Sarah L. (Safranek) Burton, was found unresponsive in his bed at 403 S. 10th St., around 2:30 a.m. a week ago, on Feb. 17. He arrived at KSB Hospital in Dixon in full cardiac arrested and was pronounced dead.

An autopsy was conducted the next day, but specifics on a cause of death are being withheld until the autopsy report and toxicology results are in, which will take about a month, Lee County Jesse Partington has said.

No arrests have been made, and the investigation into what officials have confirmed is a potential homicide continues.

Tuesday night, Nathaniel’s grandmother and other family members stood with more than 100 others as they paid tribute to the first-grader, just three blocks from his home.

“I had so much time with him this summer,” said his maternal grandmother, Colleen Hackman. “So many happy times with him. It just makes me feel so good that so many people care. And you know, I love my kids and I love other peoples’ kids and kids are, just you know … kids should be loved. So thank you, everybody, for caring.”

Craig Arnold, pastor of Riverstone Church near his home, said the vigil was being held to honor the boy.

“This is where we are going to find healing through community, conversations, stories. This is where we are going to remember Nathan. We want this to be a celebration of life, not a slandering of those left behind in an investigation that is still going on. So, there are a lot of questions here,” Arnold said.

Oregon Superintendent Tom Mahoney also addressed the crowd.

“I can tell you this is one of the most challenging things a school superintendent has to deal with. Our staff, our school community hurts because of this loss. We are grateful for the outpouring of support for our current students and our staff. It has been tremendous, and we are thankful for that,” Mahoney said.

“What we are focused on is our grieving process, and then how we support those students who are here with us. We just need you to know that we love your kids.”

Last week, Oregon Elementary School students made a memorial by decorating Nathan’s desk with handmade cards; they also put a teddy bear wearing a face mask in his seat.

Guentert said Nathaniel’s death also impacted her family.

“It hit me really hard, because I could not imagine anybody my kids’ ages passing away. And then finding out it could have been a homicide it makes it 10 times harder,” she said.

Her twins helped create the classroom memorial, and she bought pots and seeds for his classmates to grow flowers in his memory.

The vigil was organized by Shannon Martin, who has lived in Oregon since she was 12 years old, wanted to do something to help.

“I did not personally know the little boy. Oregon has always been a community for me, and I always felt that if I needed something I could always turn to the community, and I felt like this was a good time we could all come together,” Martin said.

“I was just standing in my kitchen on Thursday and posted it on Facebook, and it just kind of blew up from there.”

Earleen Hinton

Earleen oversees production and content of 9 community weeklies and has worked for Shaw Newspapers since 1985.