Community Remembers Zachary Michael Cruz

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Monday March 16, 2009 - 05:04:00 PM
Flowers surround a photo of Zachary Michael Cruz in front of the UC Berkeley Campanile, one of the 5-year-old's favorite places.
Riya Bhattacharjee
Flowers surround a photo of Zachary Michael Cruz in front of the UC Berkeley Campanile, one of the 5-year-old's favorite places.

Just as his father promised, Zachary Michael Cruz’s memorial was more a party than a funeral. 

Children ate Twizzler-topped cupcakes, painted their faces yellow and blew bubbles during the Sunday afternoon memorial at UC Berkeley Sunday afternoon.  

Frank Cruz, a doctoral student of English at the university, told the several hundred people who had gathered inside a classroom at Wheeler Hall to remember his 5-year-old son, who was killed in a collision while walking to an after-school program Feb. 28, that he wanted the service to be focused around his sons’ friends and classmates—more like “birthday party than a funeral.” 

Blue and yellow balloons, crayons, paste-on tattoos, shiny stickers and glitter greeted visitors at the Wheeler lobby, and some of the other highlights included performances by the University of California Marching Band and Cruz reading aloud from the children’s book That Bad, Bad Cat. 

A video and photograph collage of Zach, who would have turned 6 on March 12, provided a glimpse into his favorite people and pastimes: with his mother Jodie in the hospital right after he was born; with his dad at an Oakland A’s game; with his feet up on the couch at his parents’ apartment; cuddling with his grandpa Dave; against the backdrop of Golden Gate Bridge; outside the Campanile; carving a pumpkin for Halloween; playing drums; holding his baby brother Miles; and finally his favorite Beatles’ song “All You Need is Love.” 

“Almost all of Zach’s passions were passions he shared with others,” said Scott Saul, an associate professor of English at UC Berkeley. “His smiles, his hugs, his ability to live in the moment... Since the loss of Zach his family will never be the same again. The loss of someone as precious as Zach has left all of us with a hole that is almost impossible to fill. We keep him alive by holding on to what gifts he left us—the gift of generosity, wonder, curiosity, passion and creativity ... Zach, you are an amazing boy who lived life to the fullest.” 

A video recorded by Cruz plays testimony to the fact that Zach’s knowledge of music went far beyond his 5 years, something his musician father encouraged from the very beginning. 

“How many shows do you want to play?” Cruz asks in the recording, to which Zach answers, “I want to play at grandma Beverly’s ... I want to play a hundred shows a year and I want Chucky Cheese stamps on everyone’s arms.” 

“My son was not a saint, he was not an angel, but he was sweet and said ‘thank you’ and ‘please’ and had a curiosity about the world,” Cruz told the audience. “While Zach wasn’t perfect and he threw up in my car when he was a little boy, he had a lot of promise and I was his harshest critic. I am thankful for all the time I had with him—what I had with him was incredibly valuable.” 

Cruz thanked parents and teachers at LeConte Elementary School, where Zach was studying, and the community for their support over the past few weeks. 

“I didn’t believe in God or community before Zach died,” he said. “I was OK with the lack of faith. I believed in my English graduate cohorts, my faculty adviser and my family. But someone went and built that memorial where Zach was killed and then went back and cleaned it up, and has been putting fresh flowers there since then. I don’t know most of you in this room, but I can’t thank you enough for what you have done and that is holiness to me—that is holy to me.”