More than 1500 pay last respects to fourth-grader killed in St. Lucie bus crash

By Laurie K. Blandford

A crowd of more than 1,500 family members, friends, teachers, students and
people from the community overflowed from the Fort Pierce Central High
School auditorium into the cafeteria Wednesday to say goodbye to 9-year-old
Aaron Beauchamp.

“There is no way to express the grief we have today,” wrote the family through
a statement read at the memorial service. “We know he’s scoring goals in the
sky right now.”

The Frances K. Sweet Elementary School fourth-grade student who loved soccer,
animals and art died Monday afternoon in an accident involving a St. Lucie
County school bus and a semitrailer at the intersection of Okeechobee and
Midway roads. Fifteen of about 30 students from his school and the bus
driver were taken to the hospital.

Family members chose to have his memorial service at the high school because
their temple wouldn’t have accommodated the number of people who wanted to
pay their last respects. Aaron’s mom, Lillian, who is in her first year as
Manatee Academy’s principal, graduated from the high school and served as
its assistant principal from 2004 until she took her new job. The family
lives in Port St. Lucie.

Rabbi Arthur Rutberg read several Bible verses to start the service while a
slide show of family photos played on two large screens. Men, both Jewish
and non-Jewish, wore black yarmulkes made available to them. A small casket
rested at the base of the auditorium’s stage as family members and friends
spoke at the memorial.

Aaron’s aunt, Jackie Ward, was shocked when she stepped on stage and looked at
the crowd.

“Wow. This is amazing,” said Ward, thanking the crowd for coming. “Aaron loved
his family very much, and we’re going to miss his beautiful smile.”

St. Lucie County Athletic Director Jay Stewart, who is the Fort Pierce Central
boys soccer coach, said Aaron knew so many people through his ties to
several schools, soccer teams and temple. Stewart said Aaron even had an
impact on high school kids.

“This was a 9-year-old kid who lived a full life,” Stewart said.

Aaron, whom Stewart called “a very good soccer player,” wanted to attend all
the high school’s soccer games.

Stewart remembered one game when his team wasn’t playing well. He looked at
his players and knew as a coach it’s not a good sign to see them sitting
back against their seats. Only Aaron was sitting forward, so Stewart asked
if he was ready to play.

“He jumped up. He was ready to go in,” said Stewart, who told Aaron he would
get there someday. “I honestly believe Aaron would have been able to make an
impact on that team.”

Vicki Rodriguez, the vice president of the St. Lucie Classroom Teachers
Association, met Lillian Beauchamp when they worked together at Port St.
Lucie High School and became a close friend to the family.

Rodriguez said she and Aaron shared a love of Fort Pierce Central soccer, and
he often would explain to her what the referees were doing wrong during

“Aaron was enthusiasm,” Rodriguez said. “He was always up for something — or
up to something.”

Patrick Madden, the Port St. Lucie High School drama director, also is a close
family friend. Madden remembered the last play he took Aaron to see —
“Wicked” — and referenced its closing musical number.

“‘Because I knew you, I have been changed for good,’” Madden said. “And
because we’ve known Aaron Beauchamp, and he’s touched all of our lives, we
have been changed for good.”

After the service, Fort Pierce Central soccer team players served as
pallbearers and carried the casket out of the auditorium. A message that
played throughout the slide show from his family to Aaron came across the
large screens.

“We know you’re smiling down on us now.”

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