Family, friends gather to remember student

Between the tears and the sniffling, a comical picture of Peyton Chavez — like him in a hula skirt and bikini top — would pop up during the slideshow, causing an uproar of laughter in the Portales Junior High School gym.

Christina Calloway: Portales News-Tribune

Thursday was an emotional day for Portales Junior High School students as they remembered fellow student and friend Peyton Chavez, who died one year ago from a heart condition.

Thursday marked one year since Chavez' death and PJHS students, faculty, family and community members gathered in the school gym to remember and honor a fellow Ram, athlete, comedian and friend.

His death was related to cardiomyopathy, a heart disease that often goes undiagnosed. Chavez died in his sleep. He was 13.

"He was a friend and a brother in Christ," said Chavez' friend Ryan Privett through soft sobs. "He was such a strong Christian and he always did his best at everything he did and he was such a great leader."

Students sat united in the bleachers, some wearing shirts with Chavez' name and favorite Bible verse — Philippians 4:13, as they were led in prayer by male student body president Grant Wagner.

"Peyton was a great friend to everyone," said Wagner, who described what Chavez meant to the PJHS community. "He was a seeker, he was always seeking for something more … he found God. To know that he's with God in heaven, it's so comforting and it gives me peace."

Female student body president Bailey Rowley, read letters from students about their favorite memories of Chavez.

She then presented Chavez' parents with a jar stuffed with written memories from the eighth-grade class.

Christina Calloway: Portales News-Tribune

Friends and fellow athletes of Peyton Chavez had a moment of silence in front of a tree they planted for him last year as a memorial of his death.

Ruth Chavez addressed the students as the assembly came to a close, thanking them for remembering her son.

"Not very many kids your age have lost friends," said Ruth Chavez, longtime Portales High volleyball coach. "I don't want you to remember Peyton for the way that he died, I want you to remember the way that he lived."

Ruth Chavez along with husband John Chavez, who's been teaching and coaching in Portales for 33 years, said they were proud and humbled that their son had touched so many lives.

"He had the ability to see someone when they were hurting and step up and do the right thing for them whether they were his friend or not," Ruth Chavez said.

She brought up other memories of him loving to dance, sing and rap, and his father was proud of his athletic accomplishments.

John Chavez said that his son was always able to spot troubled youth.

"He would come home at night with a kid to pray for," John Chavez said.

Ruth Chavez said, "As I read through some of the posts and some of the letters that kids have sent us, I told my husband Peyton was like a psychiatrist or a counselor, he just had a way of talking to people. He just loved and accepted people."

Ruth Chavez wanted to show students she was there for them like her son was.

"Coach Chavez and Nathan (Chavez' brother) and I will never leave you," she said. "Peyton loves you and I know it's hard but it's time for us to smile again because your brother is with his father and he's happy."

PJHS Principal Steve Harris ended by talking about how strong Chavez was academically. Chavez had dreamed of being an engineer.

"Peyton was the type of student teachers dreamed about," Harris said.

He advised students to dry their tears.

"We're celebrating today and he'll live on forever here," Harris said pointing to his heart.

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