Friends and relatives of 17-month-old Garrett Grice release balloons after Sunday's memorial service for the toddler, who died in a Londonderry mobile home fire on Dec. 20. (APRIL GUILMET PHOTO)
Toddler's life remembered at Derry memorial
DERRY - Dozens of blue and white balloons floated above Central Street and toward the heavens Sunday afternoon, each carrying a handwritten message for 17-month-old Garrett Grice, the Londonderry toddler who died last month during a fire at Whispering Pines Mobile Home Park.
Friends, neighbors and loved ones gathered at the Halcyon Club in Derry to remember the life of the lively, tow-headed toddler with the easy smile, the boy whose parents affectionately referred to as "Scary Gary." Garrett died of smoke inhalation on Dec. 20 at Parkland Medical Center after an unattended cooking fire set his 17 Norwich Place home ablaze.
State Fire Marshal Bill Degnan said the fire apparently began when a child in the home turned on a burner on the stove, causing cooking oil on top of the range to ignite. Unaware that the child had turned on the stove burner, Garrett's mother, Jennell Shields, left the residence for a few minutes to see a relative living across the street. Garrett was sleeping in his crib in a nearby bedroom when the fire broke out.
At the Halcyon Club Sunday, it was standing room only as locals remembered Garrett through smiles and tears. Teddy bears were placed around the blue urn containing the boy's ashes, which were flanked by candles, a small angel figurine and a tiny blue tennis shoe Garrett had once worn. Photo collages showed a grinning baby boy.
Gerald Goncalo, chaplain for the Londonderry Police Department, led the memorial service. "In this world we often experience things that are just so tragic there really aren't any words," Goncalo said. "These are the times when we count on our family and friends to show love and care for one another; this alone is what allows us to forge ahead one day at a time."
Goncalo reminded all to take comfort in the love Garrett brought into their lives. "Remember the way he laughed, the way you'd held him and the way you played with him," the chaplain said. "Let these things be what you hold onto when you stop to remember Garrett."
Holding back tears, Shields said she had "too many memories to count" of her baby son, though today wasn't the day to share them.
Placing her arms around Shields, a family friend who identified herself only as Jen stepped forward to share her own memory of the toddler.
"I'd hold him when he was wearing his pajamas with feet: he'd just look up at me and he'd smile," she recalled. "He had the biggest blue eyes you'd ever seen."
In addition to his mother, the little boy is survived by his father, Kevin Grice, and brothers Kevin Jr., William and Jayson.
Star-shaped balloons and Sharpie markers were handed out to those wishing to offer some final words before releasing the balloons into the sky.
"Lord, please take care of this little one," one balloon read as it drifted upward, hovering gently above the tree line for a brief moment before disappearing into the clouds.