On Thursday, Maleena Valdez’s family and friends said goodbye to the 4-year-old killed in a crash as she played in her day care’s playground.
Those who spoke with WINK News estimated there were well over 100 people who came to pay their respects and show their support to the family and as we heard from some family members, it certainly meant a lot.
The reality of this little girl’s sudden passing setting in at this funeral service.
“It was very tough, you know it was very hard for us as parents and grandparents and great-grandparents seeing, you know, the people, seeing the crowd, seeing the baby laying down in her little casket,” said family member Norma Gaitan.
For loved ones, the only bright spot on this dark day is seeing the love from this community. So many people were making sure the family knows they are not alone.
“It made me happy that everybody was showing their support for her tonight. And also sad because we had to go over there and see Maleena in her little casket there, you know. Lifeless, you know,” said Norma Gaitan.
Maleena’s obituary says family and friends remember her as a funny and loving little girl. Someone who was smart, ambitious, and ready for anything.
“I would like to thank everybody. Everybody for their support, for coming out, and supporting savannah, the family, you know, for their prayers and thoughts. And may God bless each and every one of them,” said Norma Gaitan.
There is a fundraiser planned for this Saturday that will help benefit Maleena’s family. It will be at Beck’s Trucking Good BBQ in Arcadia.
The driver in the crash, 18-year-old Kiara Morant, remains in DeSoto County Jail on a $200,000 bond. She faces two counts of driving without a license and causing injury or death.
Another 5-year-old was also injured.
Tragedy is not new for the Arcadia community.
A year ago, 12-year-old Laiellah Hatcher was killed in a house fire as she tried to rescue her dog.
Five years ago, to the same day, brothers Marcus, Kiani and Kameran Clark, murdered by fire, were also laid to rest.
In the face of great pain, the Arcadia community rises.
“It’s for our community,” said Jordan Deriso. “We have people that I work with every day, employees and coworkers, that are really impacted by this. I mean, the emotional trauma, it’s just crazy. It’s going to take a little while to get over it but this is a way we can come together as a community and say we’re in this with you.”
Deriso and his company donated their time to protect the day care.
“Basically what we’re trying to do is make an impenetrable barrier to where a car can come and hit this thing at 40 miles an hour and not get through to the kids,” Deriso said.
Deriso said he can’t imagine what Maleena’s parents are going through.
“I’ve got a 1-year-old and a 5-year-old so it hits pretty close to home,” Deriso said. “Can’t imagine, I really can’t.”
The viewing and the funeral for Maleena begins at 6 p.m.
Maleena’s obituary describes her as a lively and outgoing child who was smart, ambitious and ready for everything.
“One thing I will highly emphasize is she is in no pain, sorrow, or suffering. But right now she’s gone from life temporal to life eternal,” said Monsignor James Donnelly, who will be leading the service.
Family friends said they were thankful to see the community come together to rally around the family.