For 12-year-old Andrew DiLeo, everything changed on Sept. 3, 2007. The Tenney Grammar School sixth-grader lost his brother Tim that day, in a tragedy where the boy was killed by a heavy school gate that fell on him.
“My family chain was broken,” Andrew wrote in an award-winning essay.
The essay is the winning entry in the 2011 Israel Arbeiter Essay Contest, sponsored by the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston. It is the third straight year a Tenney student has won the award.
Andrew will be honored tomorrow during ceremonies for Holocaust Remembrance Day at the New England Holocaust Memorial in Boston. Tenney Associate Principal Mary Beth Donovan-Grassi said the school will have 81 students at the event.
“There’s never enough remembering,” she said. “If you don’t remember and do not share the message that this indeed happened, it will happen again.”
In the more than three years since the accident, Andrew has found hope that “the chain would someday link again.”
In his essay, he wrotes that his beliefs, Christian faith and hope have helped him and his family through the difficult loss. He compares the situation to beliefs, memories and traditions helping persecuted Jews carry on after the Holocaust.
“If not for Beliefs, I’m sure that neither the Jews, nor I, nor anybody else would have the strength to move on,” he wrote. “In my view, I think after bad things occur, we become like buildings, and the Beliefs are like the mortar. We cannot be able to stand strong without them.”
“I wanted to express my feelings and I felt like this was an appropriate time,” Andrew said of the essay. “It was all about my feelings and my beliefs and my hopes.”
Christine Staugler, Andrew’s language arts teacher, said he wrote from the heart.
“The way that he wrote about it and the way that he wrote about how his family drew strength from their beliefs and their faith — it’s very inspirational,” Staugler said.
Andrew said the essay just poured out of him. He said the contest presented him with a chance for the first time to talk about his feelings on his brother’s death.
Andrew, Tim and two other boys were playing on an steel gate on the grounds of Tenney school on that day in 2007 when the gate came crashing down. It took five police officers and several firefighters to lift the gate off of Tim and 8-year-old Andrew. Tim was declared dead at the scene.
“I think about him all the time,” Andrew said of his brother. “He’s in my mind constantly. I don’t think I’ll forget him.”
Andrew’s message to others is to keep hope, which he said he associates with looking forward instead of looking back.
“How I keep hope is to remember and have faith that I’ll see my brother again,” he said. “I can think of the good things and not as much about the bad.”
The Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston is paying to transport the 81 Tenney students to the event.
“A lot of kids have opted to be with Andrew and Mr. Arbeiter and that is huge,” Donovan-Grassi said.