EL DORADO HILLS — Keegan Swinney loved scary movie night with his family, was always eager for a snack at school (even gluten-free crackers) and had an infectious smile.
These memories and so much more were shared at the memorial service held for the 10-year-old Tuesday afternoon at Silva Valley Elementary in El Dorado Hills. Students, teachers, parents and community members packed the multi-purpose room to celebrate Keegan’s life.
“He was a ray of sunshine, not a little ray of sunshine but a big ray of sunshine,” said teacher Karen Schott.
Teachers liked Keegan and his “can do” attitude so much they fought over him, she said with a smile. “He was just so appreciative of everything. I feel blessed that we had him as long as we did.”
Keegan died Nov. 29 after he was accidentally shot in the chest with a pellet gun while playing with a friend near his El Dorado Hills home. His parents and brothers attended Tuesday’s service and his dad Craig had especially kind words to say about the community’s support.
“It eases the pain,” Craig said when he and his family took the stage.
“It’s really hard for us to express right now how much we love him,” he added as he held tight to his family. “We were blessed with Keegan.”
Tears fell on- and off-stage as Craig repeated his “thank you” to the community and encouraged everyone to appreciate the time they have with their children. “Family is everything,” he said. “Nothing else really matters. Give your kids a hug.”
Keegan’s brother Kameron said he will always remember how his little brother would smile as he raided the family fridge and how proud he was of his most recent growth spurt. The crowd chuckled as Kameron described Keegan’s “GI crawl” into his parents’ bedroom when he wanted to sneak into their bed.
Brother Korey read a poem Keegan wrote for his mother Cassandra that ended with “I hope she loves me as much as I love her. I am sweet and helpful.”
“Love your family. Hold on tight,” Silva Valley Principal Kathy Holliman said is a lesson everyone can learn from Keegan.
Teacher Amber Hyde presented a book to the Swinney family. Inside, students wrote down their favorite memories of Keegan. The students also filled the room with colorful banners honoring their classmate.
“Keegan was very nice and never mean. He will be missed,” wrote student Sean D.
“Your smile made us smile,” reads another tribute.
In addition to his teachers and classmates, Keegan made a lasting impression on El Dorado Hills firefighters. Every year Keegan entered the El Dorado Hills Fire Department’s annual Fire Prevention Week poster contest. This year he came in third.
Engineer Ben Cowles recalled when he met the fifth-grader at the contest’s trophy presentation and he had assumed Keegan was a girl. “He came up in his camo pants and I had to formally apologize,” Cowles said, shaking his head and smiling.
In honor of Keegan, the firefighters turned his poster into a magnet that will grace the door of one of the department’s vehicles. Cowles gave the original poster back to Keegan’s family.
Buckeye Union School District Superintendent David Roth said even though he didn’t know Keegan, what he had heard about him demonstrated that Keegan had “great spirit.”
A slide show of Keegan, showing him napping with his brothers and out on family adventures, certainly supported Roth’s observation. The youngster smiled wide in every photo (except when he was sleeping).
Following the service, mourners braved chilly temperatures to release dozens of blue, environmentally friendly balloons into the dimming sky. As part of a class assignment Keegan once wrote about his love of stars and how he wondered what was above him.
“Keegan is a bright, shining star,” Holliman said. “He’s up there.”
Community members who wish to offer financial support for the Swinney family can do so by bringing checks payable to “The Swinney Memorial Fund” to the Silva Valley Elementary School office, or by visiting any American River Bank to make a deposit, or mailing a check to: American River Bank, 1545 River Park Drive, Suite 107, Sacramento 95815.