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'Forever with the angels': Memorial honors 3 Greater Peoria boys who died last week

220404 Pekin vigil3.jpg
Hannah Alani
/
WCBU
A memorial/vigil at the intersection of Route 29 and Insull Street in Pekin honors the lives of Greater Peoria boys Damien LeGassick, 3, Ryle Embree, 2, and Navin Jones, 8.

The memorial started out with one white cross and a handful of flowers.

By Monday evening, the grassy dip between Route 29 and the parking lot of Precision RC Hobbies in Pekin was covered in several piles of balloons, stuffed animals, children’s books, butterflies, blowing bubbles, and more.

In the center of it all, resting between two teddy bears, lay a heart-shaped plaque with the message, "Forever with the angels, always in our hearts."

Tiffiany Shore, a Pekin resident and organizer of the growing memorial, lifted the plaque with her hands and turned it over, revealing three names: Ryle, Navin, Damien.

“It’s just a tragedy,” she said. “It saddens me that there’s so much ugly in this world. And evil. And that’s why we did this.”

Last Thursday, 3-year-old Damien LeGassick was fatally struck by a semi-truck near the intersection of Route 29 and Insull Street in Pekin.

A few days earlier, on Tuesday, 8-year-old Navin Jones was pronounced brain dead at OSF HealthCare; his Peoria death was ruled a homicide and his parents face life in prison.

And in rural Tremont, 2-year-old Ryle Embree died last Monday from injuries suffered in a UTV crash on March 21.

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Hannah Alani
/
WCBU
Tiffiany Shore's 8-year-old son, Dominick, writes the names of three recently deceased children.

Several neighbors and passersby stopped by Shore's memorial on Monday, adding more flowers or stuffed animals to the site.

A couple of wooden crosses were staked into the ground. One had the words, “Bless you, little one.” On the back of another cross, a retired trucker wrote a long note, intended for the truck driver involved in LeGassick’s death.

On the back of another, Shore’s 8-year-old son, Dominic, wrote the word “love” in red sharpie. He also penned the names of all three slain children and drew hearts.

220404 Pekin vigil2.jpg
Hannah Alani
/
WCBU
A memorial/vigil at the intersection of Route 29 and Insull Street in Pekin honors the lives of Greater Peoria boys Damien LeGassick, 3, Ryle Embree, 2, and Navin Jones, 8.

Since reading about the three children's deaths online, Shore said she has not been able to stop hugging her son.

“He’s the same age as the boy in Peoria,” she said. “It makes me hug him so tight every day. He’s like, ‘Mom!’ Well, ‘I (want) you to know that I love you.’ He says, ‘I know you would never do that to me.’ But that’s the thing. Some parents do.”

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Knapp-Johnson Funeral Home and Cremation Center
8-year-old Navin Jones was pronounced dead on March 29 at OSF Saint Francis Medical Center. The Peoria county coroner said his death is one of the worst cases of abuse he has seen.

April is Child Abuse Awareness Month, a fact Shore learned after she began working on the memorial. She hopes these three tragedies will inspire members of the community to pay more attention to the children around them.

“You don’t think about it, you live your life, day to day, doing what you’re doing,” she said. “But it could be anybody. The boy down the street. The girl next door.”

Shore posted details for Monday’s vigil on Facebook and shared a Facebook Live video of her lighting candles with her son and her sister.

She said she hasn’t yet heard from any of the families of the three children.

“I wish I could express my condolences directly to them,” she said. “But I imagine that’s not on their top priority list. … If any of the families are listening to this, I’m very sorry for your loss. My deepest condolences. … If I could do anything to prevent it, I would.”

According to his obituary, Damien LeGassick’s birthday is April 12; services are planned for this Thursday.

Shore said she plans to attend the family's services. She also plans to return to the vigil site next Tuesday with more candles.

220404 Pekin vigil1.jpg
Hannah Alani
/
WCBU
A memorial/vigil at the intersection of Route 29 and Insull Street in Pekin honors the lives of Greater Peoria boys Damien LeGassick, 3, Ryle Embree, 2, and Navin Jones, 8.
220404 Pekin vigil9.jpg
Hannah Alani
/
WCBU
Dominic Simpson, 8, writes the names of three recently deceased Greater Peoria children on the back of a wooden cross on Monday, April 4, 2022.
220404 Pekin vigil8.jpg
Hannah Alani
/
WCBU
A memorial/vigil at the intersection of Route 29 and Insull Street in Pekin honors the lives of Greater Peoria boys Damien LeGassick, 3, Ryle Embree, 2, and Navin Jones, 8.
220404 Pekin vigil4.jpg
Hannah Alani
/
WCBU
A memorial/vigil at the intersection of Route 29 and Insull Street in Pekin honors the lives of Greater Peoria boys Damien LeGassick, 3, Ryle Embree, 2, and Navin Jones, 8.
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Hannah Alani is a reporter at WCBU. She joined the newsroom in 2021. She can be reached at hmalani@ilstu.edu.