ToniAnn Turley was only in kindergarten when her classmate, Jake Robel, was killed. But even now the Truman High School senior can still remember him.

ToniAnn Turley was only in kindergarten when her classmate, Jake Robel, was killed. But even now the Truman High School senior can still remember him.


“I remember his face and his smile. He was so fun and playful,” she said. “I even remember my mom getting the call after the accident. It was devastating.”


Jake Robel was honored Sunday during a memorial organized by Truman High School’s International Thespian Society at Glendale Elementary School. The group raised money to revitalize the Jake Robel Butterfly Garden, which was constructed shortly after his death to help teachers and students cope with the loss.


The 6-year-old was killed in February 2000 when he was dragged to death during a carjacking. If he had lived, Jake would have graduated from Truman High School in May.


“We wanted to do something special for him and decided this project would be a good choice,” said Luke Atkison, a senior at Truman High School who also attended Glendale Elementary. “We wanted to revitalize the garden to celebrate what he could have been. We wanted to make sure he is not forgotten.”


The group of students raised $1,500 to plant 325 new flowers in the garden. They also removed the weeds that had taken over much of the garden, and added 30 bags of mulch and 425 square feet of compost, which was donated by an area lawn care company.


The group of students is also trying to get Jake’s name mentioned during graduation exercises next month as another way to remember him.


“We loved doing it, and it was our pleasure,” Atkison said of the project. “We are really pleased with how it came out and hope the family likes it.”


Greg Robel, Jake’s father, said he was a little surprised when he found out the students had planned the garden project. But he said he is glad to know that others are thinking about his son so many years after his death.


“Over the years, there has been a lull in the news coverage about Jake. You just kind of think that everyone has forgotten. It is really nice to know someone is once again thinking about him with the rest of us,” he said. “They did a really great job with the garden. I know that if Jake was even a little bit what these kids are, we would be really happy.”


The Robel family has created two $1,500 scholarships for students in honor of their son. The only requirement is that the students must have been in Jake’s kindergarten class at Glendale. This will be the only year the scholarship is offered.


“It is hard to imagine that he would have graduated from high school this year,” Robel said. “This is really the last milestone to remember him by. There, of course, have been birthdays, when he would have gotten his driver’s license, going through different grades and different sports he would have participated in, but graduation is really the last one. I don’t know what to expect from here.”


Todd Siebert, principal at Glendale Elementary, said the entire staff is pleased with Atkison’s idea to clean up the garden in memory of Jake. He said it will be a place students and staff can enjoy for years to come.


“I think this was fabulous,” he said. “It shows the type of hearts they have. They are a very considerate group.”


Turley said she is so happy that she was able to help remember Jake in this way. She said it is bright and colorful and really represents what she remembers of him.


“It is so hard to think about what he might have been,” she said. “Would he have been in theater with us? Would he have been a football player or basketball player? We will never know. I think experiencing something like that at such a young age impacted the way I grew up. It has made me think differently, losing a friend at that age. This was a great way, though, to always keep him in our memories. I don’t think any of us will ever forget him.”