Eastlake memorial tree for teen killed cut down during school demolition

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EASTLAKE, Ohio --An Eastlake mother says her daughter's memorial tree was cut down without notice to her family during demolition and construction of the new North High School.

"I can still remember the day they planted it and all the people that were there and they handed me a red rose," said April Spiegel.

Spiegel says her daughter, Vanessa Horna, was 17 years old when she died in a 1997 accident. She says her child's classmates planted a memorial tree in her honor in front of the former North High School.

Over the years, Spiegel says she has visited the tree, and watched it grow and bloom. She describes being heartbroken upon learning the memorial tree was cut down and the plaque removed during construction.

"They cut it down because they said they could not transplant it but they never notified the family as to what was going to happen with the tree," said Spiegel.

The Willoughby-Eastlake City Schools Superintendent released the following statement:

“During the process of preparing for construction of our new schools, the district took great care to document the memorial items that were located on our properties. While some of the items that had been placed to memorialize people and events, such as bricks and plaques, could be moved, others such as the tree for Vanessa Horna, was more than 20 years old and was simply too large to be moved. The district worked in conjunction with local arborists and professional tree care services to identify the requirements involved in saving trees.

We have been in touch with both parents of Vanessa and have offered to memorialize their daughter with a new tree when it is possible for the installation of landscaping at North High School. We hope that this will help Vanessa’s family to continue to remember her and we are deeply sorry for the loss of their daughter.”

A district spokesperson says the records and contact information of former students and their families was destroyed in a 2017 fire at their board of education building. The district has the plaque dedicated in memory of Horna.

Spiegel says she questions if memorials located at other school buildings undergoing construction were preserved.

"If I found this out on my own do any of the other families and friends know what happened to theirs?"

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