UNION COUNTY, N.C. – It’s a phrase that’s often said when someone dies; ‘gone, but not forgotten.’
In Union County a school resource officer took the phrase to heart. With help from students and friends he hasn’t heard from in 30 years Officer Louie Rodriguez was able to make sure a student who died after collapsing in school got something special.
Alternative school students and school resource officers typically have strained relationships.
At South Providence School in Waxhaw, that pitted 16-year-old Dominique Griffin against Rodriguez.
"She was a bright kid, she was a fireball,” Rodriguez said.
And, Rodriguez says, Griffin made it known she didn't like him. But he didn't believe it.
"She would always say something, then smile," he explained.
Griffin had a tough life, losing both parents by the time she was 9-years-old.
She also battled heart disease and diabetes. In December, 2006, Griffin had a seizure in school.
Rodriguez tried to help.
"From experience, I knew it wasn't good,” he said.
Griffin died the same day.
When school is out, Rodriguez's patrols take him past Union Chapel Baptist Church's cemetery.
He'd often stop and look for Griffin's grave.
"Each year I couldn't find it,” he said.
A big tree in a row of trees had fallen on Griffin’s grave and debris had accumulated around it.
Underneath the mess was Griffin’s grave.
It had never been marked.
That fact just didn't match the school's message to Griffin - "We will never forget."
One of Rodriguez's Christmas tree ornaments is a button with Griffin's picture on it with that phrase.
"That's when the Key Club came in,” he said.
Rodriguez is now the school resource officer at Weddington High School. Students there, along with strangers raised more than $600.
"We could really feel for her family,” said student Morgan Onley.
It was enough for a headstone and flowers.
"It brings tears to my eyes. I felt like I knew her, I honestly wish I did,” said Weddington student Melissa Sackowitz.
Four years later, Rodriguez didn't forget.
And now driving past the cemetery, he and everyone else know exactly where to find Dominique Griffin.
"Her brother and sister can come out, her aunts can come out and see exactly where she is at,” Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez and students held a ceremony over Christmas with Griffin’s relatives showing them the headstone.