Tucked into a new mural in Alcoa Intermediate School’s foyer is a tribute to an 8-year-old boy who died last week, leaving the message “Be a Light.”
His mother, Miranda Talley Reagan, was standing in that hallway on June 10 when she received news of the tragedy that rocked not only her family but the entire community.
Police believe Clark Reagan was killed by his father, who also died by suicide that day.
Clark was a student in Maryville City Schools, where both of his parents taught, but Miranda was interviewing that morning for a job at AIS. Alcoa school officials expect her to begin the new school year as a fourth-grade teacher in that building.
Plans already were underway for Knoxville native Gale Hinton to paint murals on the walls of the entryway, a project the school decided to proceed with after plans to expand the building were put on hold this year.
The first section includes historic scenes from the community, including its first schools. Past an overhead bridge, the second section features inspirational messages.
One side says, “Show kindness, work hard, know that you are loved.” The other side says, “What you do makes a difference Decide what kind of difference you want to make.”
The high wall facing students and visitors as they walk in includes a scene with a stream and small waterfall. On the lower left side is a little boy surrounded by three fireflies, with an image of a shark on his back. “Clark the shark” loved to swim.
Clark was always a light, Miranda Talley has said, and the message to “Be a Light” to honor his memory was shared with the community during a service last week at Faith Promise.
The waterfall scene already was planned for the wall, but when Hinton was taking a break at AIS last week, Principal Michelle Knight talked with her about the recent trauma. They discussed the possibility of including a reference to the boy, and the muralist explained she had done similar work before.
They decided a silhouette image would be the best approach, and the memorial service sparked the idea to add the fireflies. “The focus we wanted was the light,” Knight said.
The principal reached out to the mother’s friends, and they accompanied her to the school Tuesday, June 18. Knight said Hinton would have painted over the image if Talley had not approved, but the mother appreciated the different feel the murals gave the hallway from the previous week.
The grieving mother has more than the support of the Reagan and Talley families, Knight said. “Her educator support family is big.”
Hinton, who was expected to complete the murals last night, June 19, included other personal references within them.
Alcoa alumni will recognize the bridge reference to “Mr. P.,” beloved teaching assistant Dennis Pershing, who died in 2006.
A red bird holds special meaning for former Alcoa Elementary Principal Myrna Schott, who now works part time at AIS, a reference to a poem written for her after the death of her husband.
Hinton also included a signature element in her murals, whimsical ant figures.
She first painted an ant in a mural at the request of a child who was grieving the death of his father, and the mother later told Hinton that was a turning point for the boy.
The artist estimates she has painted murals in more than 1,200 schools over the past 50 years, and she began working with Alcoa City Schools nearly a decade ago at the elementary school.
Read more about the AIS murals in a special section inside The Daily Times on June 30 commemorating the city of Alcoa Centennial.
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 800-273-TALK (8255), is a free service that can provide support and local resources to people who may have thoughts of suicide and those around them.
The free National Domestic Violence Prevention Hotline, 1−800−799−SAFE(7233), provides safety planning, crisis intervention and education for youth and adult victims of family violence, domestic violence or dating.