Editor's Note: Although this writer quotes what the speakers said, they are but snippets from the moving tributes family and friends gave in honor of the three students, who died in the plane crash, May 23.
By Mary Alice Murphy
The memorial for Ella Sala Myers, Michael Sebastian Mahl and Ella Jaz Kirk filled the Fine Arts Center Theatre to overflowing on Sunday afternoon. Before the ceremony began, a slideshow of the three Aldo Leopold Charter School students enthralled many who knew them, as well as those who didn't.
What was said by various speakers made each student more whole, more understandable, and always brought the regret that these intelligent, beautiful young human beings would not reach their full potential.
"We do not often realize the impact we made in the world," the reader of a poem said. "Our world is a better place for their having been part of it."
Brandon Perrault dedicated the song "Hallelujah," "to these beautiful souls."
Joshua Reeves, a recent ALCS graduate, said: "Their reach was far into the community. Each led amazing lives." He said he and Steve Blake were their mentors for the arts and the environment for the EnviroThon competition, at which they placed first place at state. "They were monitoring the fuel load in the Gila and the soils. They wanted to bring art and science together. They had each other."
He said Michael could be a little cocky, but he knew everything would be OK. "Ella Jaz hyped us up with her nerdy intelligence. I had to push Ella Myers to show how intelligent she was. The Ellas did not like each other, but that changed. They grew to love each other."
"Yes, they were flawed," Reeves continued. "I am grateful I saw how they grew together. The goal is not perfection, but these three were the rope that held the team together. They became a true team, working together.
"Michael had a suave charm, and his confidence drove them forward," he said. "Ella Jaz was the brains. She had so much knowledge, and her drive and focus kept them going. Ella Myers was so quick, but she kept her ideas to herself. She was the soul. She was quiet, because Ella Jaz and Michael overshadowed her. She would pull them back in and keep them grounded. Where one's weakness began, another one of the team took over. Ella Myers kept it steady. And yes, we got first place at state. They were constantly adding to the databank of knowledge. They fought for the river and wanted security for the forest. They wanted harmony for people. They have kindled the flame in all of us. We must come together so we can make this world as beautiful as they were."
He read poems by each of the three.
Maddy Alfero sang "Birds," which she composed.
Raven Myers, Ella's big sister, brought a bit of humor to the solemnity of the afternoon. "When I was 11 years old and she was 8, I had pet crickets. We decided we would eat while watching them. A piece of spaghetti fell out of her mouth. The crickets licked off all the tomatoes. A male started dragging the noodle, and a female began tugging on the other end. This is my favorite memory of Ella."
Brian Myers, Ella's father, said he wanted to begin by honoring the other three victims of the crash.
"Ella was my daughter—a gifted artist, videographer, photographer, computer and writer, who understood the nuance of sound and word. She carried herself with grace. Still waters ran deep. She loved animals and the natural world. Her mother grounded her and kept her whole. She is all around us now. She was a true warrior and defended fairness and equality. She led by example, with a will of iron, as true leaders do. We used to talk about the follies of technology. I will remember those talks as wonderful times. Ella has changed the world by being true to herself.
"This is for Aldo Leopold Charter School students," her father said. "I ask you to follow Ella's lead as she was and is. Move through the world with grace and elegance. Don't be afraid to embark on new adventures. Take advantage of the school and trust the teachers. Don't settle for second best. Be forgiving and loving for that is how she found friendship. Honor your attributes. Life always unfolds. Accept what the Creator gives. Ella, Ella and Michael would want it this way. Peace be with you all."
Ella Myers' uncle, Rae Douglass, said his favorite memory would be a recent one. "I took her to dinner and then to the symphony in this hall. I saw her as a young woman, and we even liked some of the same composers."
He said he had never played before sure a large audience but that he would play a compilation of music by Erik Satie and Philip Glass. "I want everyone to think of her floating over Paris. Right now I was playing Eric Satie, who was from Paris."
Jennifer Douglass, Ella Myer's mother, said: "Before I came up here, I asked Ella to give me strength. I am the mother of Raven and Ella. My gift was to be there and listen to her. She was Brian and me incarnate, but so much better. We have found hundreds of photos. She carried her point-and-shoot camera everywhere. We have hundreds of photos of clouds and nature. She was a musician. Her violin teacher was a graduate of Julliard. Ella was going to Chicago to meet with her teacher's mentor. But Ella's favorite love was her horse, Gracie. The horse would be biting on the bars waiting for Ella. Gracie was always so excited when she saw Ella. Ella sang with Gracie. Ella's happiest moment happened two weeks before she died. She was named a Scholastic Arts winner for her two novels. I will also share her film, which got her accepted to a summer program for the Chicago Art Institute. She found the subject matter, produced the body of work and edited it. The film would allow her to get into the Chicago Art Institute after she graduated."
"For the music for the film, she contacted Sennen, a British band, for the right to use their song in the film," Jennifer said. "They saw the film and gladly gave her permission. Ella used her point-and-shoot camera for the film. The three stars were her horse, her grandpa and, of course, her sister Raven. She was exploring how the eye is the window to the world."
A photo of Ella Myers, standing in the doorway of a small plane, flashed onto the screen behind her mother. "This photo was taken by Steve Blake minutes before the flight took off. I want to dedicate her film to the three students."
The film was played on the screen on stage.
After the film finished, another video came onto the screen. It was a video of Michael performing "Let Her Go," a song he wrote.
"I thank my friends and family for this wonderful outpouring of love you've shown my family and the other families," Michael's father, John Mahl, said. "It's simply overwhelming. I thank the staff of Aldo Leopold and the volunteers for putting together this beautiful memorial. I also thank Dr. Shepard and Western New Mexico University for opening this facility for the memorial. I also wanted to thank Raven for the needed levity."
"'Gunka,' as we called Michael," was my son," John said. "Alex was two years old and when he would say Michael Sebastian, it began with Gunka. It stuck. Alex and Michael were best buds and adorable when they played together. Being boys, there were lots of boo-boos.
"Michael loved video games," John continued. "When he was three years old he would play Mario on the Nintendo. The way he would work through the most complicated games was outstanding. For every chore, we would give a ticket for ½ hour of video game. He would do chores willingly. The Life of Zelda he loved. It is one of the most difficult problem solving games out there, but he collected every game. His advanced reading skills were learned from this game.
"Years went by, we went camping, we went on family vacations," John said. "There was lots of laughter and with three boys, lots of flatulence.
"Around the age of 10, Michael wanted to play my guitar," his father said. "By the age of 13, his playing ability exceeded his father's. He loved being a musician on the road. He loved to travel. He could play video games in the back of the car or on a plane.
"My advice to you is take those camping trips," John said. "Take that time off and go on vacation with the family. You won't regret it.
"The most important thing to Michael was his faith," his father said. "He loved Jesus and was not afraid to declare his faith. Teachers at Aldo told me his inner light drew people to him. I believe his inner light was Christ. I believe they are playing his secret chord in heaven."
Poppy Dames, on piano, and her friend Koruna, on violin, played "The Hand," in honor of Ella Jaz. "I wanted to sing," Poppy said, "but I don't think I could make it through it."
Alegra Link, who described herself as Patrice Mutchnik's rabbi, said: "Heaven for Jews is a soul living in peace among us forever."
"Ella Jaz Kirk, was my life," Patrice Mutchnik, Ella Jaz's mother, said. "She was my light, my love. She was born in New Hampshire Those early years in New Hampshire embued her with a fortitude. She loved cold water. Ella Jax lost her dad when she was just 2 years old. He was a Green Beret and a special person. He left us a path to follow. He taught her to ski, and she was a powder hound." A photo of Ella Jaz in her ski gear was taken last winter and shown on the screen.
"Living with Ella Jaz was pure, hilarious joy," Patrice said. "At 3 years old, she declared: 'I'm not afraid of anything—clowns, scarecrows, worms or nothing."
Patrice and Ella Jaz moved to Gila Hot Springs, and "we made new friends. She loved to chase butterflies. At Gila Hot Springs, she was at home. She began playing with the Fiddlin' Friends. Her aunt gave Ella Jaz her first fiddle. Music was fun for her. They played as musicians and for fun. Ella Jaz and I sang together all the time. Her favorite time of the day was sunset. She bottle-fed triplet goats. She attended Guadalupe Montessori School, Down to Earth School. At 7 years old, she began to perform in plays with Theater New Mexico. She was in Joseph's Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Fiddler on the Roof, Annie, and others. She was also part of the first Monsoon Puppet Parade. She continued to paint and do papier-mâché. When she was four, we went camping to the Chiricahuas and explored the Southwest with Gabriella (O'Keefe) and her parents. A trip to the Sequoias was one of the happiest times or her and my life. She was into nature as the sacred and life.
"We decided to take a year off," Patrice said. "She had just started Aldo Leopold, but we went to Paris. It was so much fun. Ella was into food and loved the cheese. We celebrated Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur in Venice. We spent time in Grenada and Madrid in Spain. Ella was a lover of art, so we visited many museums.
"Then was her time at Aldo Leopold," Patrice continued. "The backpacking trip was a highlight. The school gave her a place to succeed, to learn to be herself. She was volunteering for everything. At Aldo Leopold, she was loved for her intelligence. She was very self-critical. We were planning a trip to Maine, and she was worried about her carbon footprint. She wanted to major in ecology, focusing on water. We made a pledge to travel the world. We were traveling as mother and daughter. A couple of days before they died, she was sitting in the field with Michael. She had an urgency about her, almost as if she had a premonition. 'I don't have much time,' she would tell me. She worried she was not doing enough. I would say, just like a mother, 'Slow down. You have plenty of time.'
"There are no words for the loss," Patrice said. "We can only express pain or beauty. Like all of you, I am searching.
"We have apple trees, and like everybody else's, this year they bloomed and all the blooms fell off," her mother said. "A couple of days after the crash, at sunset I was looking at the changing light. I was standing there, and right at eye height was one small apple blossom that formed overnight. This simple flower symbolizes the beauty of the world."
Alegra Link and Bella Bjornstad read: "In Ella's Words," notes and comments that Ella Jaz had written.
Andrew Dahl-Bredine played: "Prayer Song for Ella Jaz."
Jim McIntosh, ALCS teacher, thanked the parents for sharing their children with him and with everyone else.
"I'm glad I was in the right place to teach and be taught by these outstanding students," McIntosh said.
"Steve Blake also asked that we observe a moment of silence in honor of the other victim of this tragedy—Dr. Peter Hochla."
"We are about to leave this room to continue our lives," McIntosh said. "Today, we've seen their photos and their words. They were three gifted musicians. Michael was always confident, but I think he was a little surprised at what he could do. Ella Jaz took on bureaucrats. Ella Myers, during the Tour of the Gila, I invited to take part in the citizens' ride. She thought about it, and said: 'Jim, I want to see what I can do.' She won her age group race.
"They've shown us how to live life fully," McIntosh said. "They taught us to work in a circle and to push aside apathy."
He then read a poem: "To Understand the Wind," which he wrote.
The final three stanzas are:
"Their lives are complete now—
I will go so far as to say perfected—
Graven on that golden stone
In the bundled fruit of our brain.
A boy, moving light through his fingers
And six strings;
A girl with her hand raised against
And between them, another,
So swift, so calm,
A pen in the palm of her hand
Into the dying light."
The auditorium emptied to played piano music, lots of sniffing and with tissues wiping eyes.
The program, handed out to participants, had as the background of the middle pages, a cloud photo by Ella Sala Myers.