At one of the Fairmont Ridge peaks, you'll find a grove of Oak trees leading to a large stone octagon structure overlooking a breathtaking view of the Bay Area.
It is possibly one of the most beautiful sites sitting on the border of Castro Valley and San Leandro.
However, the reason for its existence is distressing.
The Children's Memorial Grove raises awareness and honors almost 400 children, 18 years and younger, from Alameda County who have lost their lives to violence.
To represent National Children's Memorial Day on the last Friday in April, families and friends of those lost children along with community members, public safety officers and county and park officials have gathered at the site to install a permanent plaque with the childrens' names who have died the previous year. Their names are then read aloud by all who attend and a tree is planted for them.
This annual tradition was launched in 1996 by former District 2 County Supervisor Gail Steele, who's been an advocate for keeping this awareness alive in the community. She recognized that she and the general public were becoming used to the violent deaths of children that take place in communities throughout the country.
"The memorial and ceremony raises the consciousness that we have a national epidemic, not just specific to Alameda County," Steele said. "What kind of country have we become to be so numb to losing our children?"
Stelle said this year, the ceremony will recognize the deaths of 13 children, two of which committed suicide.
"There's so many things we should be doing to prevent these deaths," Steele said. "Officials should acknowledge that these kids were failed."
The ceremony will be held on April 27 at 3 p.m., and will be the first where Steele is hosting it as a private citizen. She said after recently being notified by the staff of current District 2 Supervisor Nadia Lockyer on their plans to not lead this year's effort, she took it upon herself to make it happen.
"It's so important to the families," Steele said.
This holds true for local resident John Lin, who in 1994 had discovered his then 14-year-old daughter Jenny murdered in his Castro Valley home when he returned from work one day.
Lin and about a dozen parents who were impacted by the loss of their children from violence have banned together to form a Children's Memorial committee and help Steele with her efforts to continuing the ceremony.
"it's a way to help us kind of relieve our emotion and a way to make our voices heard by people. Any child's life is very precious and their soul should not go unheard," Lin said.
What Sparked It All
Steele said Jenny's death triggered her to start the project.
"I remember so well when she was killed," Steele said. "This wonderful child...just violated."
However, her passion to acknowledge these children and the pain their families are put through from these tragedies stems from the tragedy that occurred in her family during her childhood.
At the age of 7, she lost her then 5-year-old brother after he ate a few poisonous mushrooms in a forest in Guerneville.
"I saw what it did to my mother. I understand how the heart breaks," she said.
Bob Doyle, General Manager of East Bay Regional Park District said he and his staff have embraced the efforts of Steele and the parents regarding the ceremony and memorial.
Doyle said after hiring so many local youth who have stuck with the park district for several years, seeing these premature lives cut short hits close to home because they see what these children can grow up to be.
"Something like this reminds people we need to protect our futures and our kids."
A Fitting Flag For Such a Memorial
In early 1996 Steele and the Children’s Memorial Committee helped launch a Children's Memorial Flag, which is now flown state and nationwide at half-staff under the American flag on the Friday after a child dies by violence.
That spring, the Committee held a countywide Memorial Flag contest for school children to design this flag — from 164 entries, 16-year-old Leah Patty's was selected.
The Child Welfare League of America (CWLA) took the Children’s Memorial Flag Project from the county to the state and national level.
The California Assembly in April 1997 formally declared the fourth Friday in April as a statewide annual observance day, where every year, the Children's Memorial Flag is lowered statewide in memory of all California children who died by violence in the previous year.
On April 4, 2001, the United States Congress, through the leadership of Congressman Pete Stark, passed a concurrent resolution supporting this National Children's Memorial Flag Day and its regular annual observance on the fourth Friday in April.
The CWLA now offers Children’s Memorial Flags for purchase to any community that loses a child through violence.