Family and friends remember their loved ones during a memorial service Saturday at McCoy Elementary School in Aztec.
Family and friends remember their loved ones during a memorial service Saturday at McCoy Elementary School in Aztec. (Jon Austria — The Daily Times)

FARMINGTON — A series of plaques lined tables in front of McCoy Elementary School in Aztec on Saturday during a memorial service for children who have died.

The annual service started in 2000 and this year was held in the memorial garden at the school. It gives parents and loved ones a chance to grieve and to talk to others who are coping with similar feelings.

Before the service started, Chanci McKinney stood with a friend's son looking at the plaques on a table.

The boy asked her what the ceramic tiles were for and she replied that they were "for kiddos who are in heaven now."

Then she began to read the names of the children. She paused for a second when she got to two-year-old Taegen Elise McKinney's plaque.

Tobi Griego places a garden decoration inside McCoy Elementary School’s memorial garden on Saturday before the start of a memorial service in Aztec.
Tobi Griego places a garden decoration inside McCoy Elementary School's memorial garden on Saturday before the start of a memorial service in Aztec. (Jon Austria — The Daily Times)

"This is my husband's daughter," she said. "She's in heaven now."

Taegen was born in November 2005 and died in April 2007. McKinney said she met her husband after Taegen's death.

"But she's still a big part of our lives," McKinney said.

The McKinneys have three children who live at home and one who lives in Dallas, Texas.

McKinney said the other children know about Taegen and know that she was their sister.

"The sad thing about the world today is that there is so much death and so much heartbreak that the kids have to know about it," McKinney said.

She said they have explained to the other children that even though Taegen is dead, she is still with them. The family asked that the cause of death not be published.

Taegen's plaque and the other plaques will one day be hung on a wall outside of the school next to the memorial garden so that people can see their child's name even when the school is closed, the organizer, Ginny Jones, said.

In 1998, Jones helped to organize the garden, which, at the time, was just bare ground and concrete.

Jones said she noticed when she was a teacher at McCoy Elementary that a lot of the other teachers had lost children. Jones also had lost a child. Twenty-five years ago, she gave birth to a still-born baby and two years afterwards she had a miscarriage.

"Since I was a teacher, it seemed like a good place to start," she said, talking about the garden.

On Saturday, children and family members added new plants to the garden.

Jones said the ceremony was organized because many Memorial Day events do not include children.

Many of the families have attended year after year and have hand-decorated plaques in memory of their children. Jones said she would like it if the memorial was not necessary.

"I would be happy if we never did another plaque again," she said.

Hannah Grover covers news, arts and religion for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652 and hgrover@daily-times.com. Follow her @hmgrover on Twitter.