Prince Street student was ‘life and joy of everyone’

Students and teachers draped black cloth across Kaleb Chatmon’s desk at Prince Street Elementary School. His holiday weekend death was a blow to students who returned to school Monday.

Like most little boys, Kaleb Chatmon talked about being a firefighter when he grew up.

The Black Panther superhero fascinated him and he owned an impressive collection of Hot Wheels cars.

He was interested in running track, like both his parents did, and football. Perhaps most of all, he loved meeting somebody new, shaking hands, introducing himself.

“He was the life and joy of everyone,” his mother, Natasha Chatmon, said, four days after her 7-year-old son, the youngest of three, died in a Thanksgiving Day car accident on Route 13 south, near the Snow Hill Road exit on the Bypass.

His father, 55-year-old Kenneth Chatmon Sr., was driving around 9:30 that night when, police said, a kind of speeding, road-rage incident involving two other cars began. Chatmon lost control of his Toyota pickup truck. It crossed the median and the driver apparently overcompensated, sending the truck across both lanes, where it collided with a tree. The impact was on the passenger side.

Father and son were rushed to Peninsula Regional Medical Center. Kaleb was pronounced dead and the older Chatmon was, at first, admitted to the Intensive Care Unit. By early this week, he had been moved to a room at the hospital.

Shortly after the crash, a neighbor noticed Chatmon’s truck on the highway and called his older son, Ken Chatmon Jr., urging his mother and him to hurry to the hospital.

When Chatmon first talked to his family, he didn’t remember the collision and thought Kaleb had been with his mother that day. Somehow, the family found the fortitude to tell him the boy had been killed.

“It is very hard and difficult. Kaleb was so lovable,” his mother said quietly.

“He was with his father that day. The last time I saw him was Wednesday night. He texted that morning. He sent hearts and kisses. I sent him a text that said, ‘Kisses’ and he texted ‘Hugs.’ I had told him that after Thanksgiving we’d put up the Christmas tree and he sent a little emoticon of a tree,” his mother said, trying to smile.

Kaleb, she said, was not a shy child, but sociable and intelligent. A second-grader, he had been reading since kindergarten.

At the funeral, on Saturday, Dec. 8, at New Dimensions Church on Jersey Road, the boy, who lived on South Schumaker Drive, will be celebrated, as he was at Prince Street Elementary School.

His teacher, Linda Huffman, fashioned a memorial for him, draping his desk in black and carefully arranging a half dozen red roses in a vase. A little teddy bear and battery-operated candle rest on the desk. A sign in the room says, “In honor of our friend, Kaleb.”

“He was a wonderful little boy whose happiness and joy just could not be contained. A wonderful boy,” Huffman said.

“He loved school and he really loved to learn. He loved all his classmates and he was very well liked by his classmates. He liked math. He was just energetic and friendly.

“If anybody came into the classroom, anybody new, he would run over and greet them. He would introduce himself,” she said.

Prince Street Principal Jason Miller was in the classroom Monday morning when Huffman gently explained Kaleb’s death.

“Some of them already knew from their parents. We just sat down in Group Time and we had a little discussion about it,” said Huffman who, years ago, taught Kaleb’s older brother, Kenneth Chatmon Jr.

“They wrote little cards that they wanted to write. We talked about it and we cried a little bit,” his teacher said.

“The kids were upset. They were visibly upset. Some of them were crying,” Miller said.

One student said she believed Kaleb was in heaven and another imagined him wearing white and having wings and a halo.

“I think he’s an angel,” a third classmate said.

“He had a wonderful smile,” Huffman said.

“We call ourselves family. We’re a community. When there is loss within your family you recognize that. We had a moment of silence and we said we lost a member of our family due to a car accident,” Miller said.

The flag in front of the school is flying at half-staff.

At the Salisbury Christmas Parade on Sunday, Prince Street Elementary will display a float celebrating the 15 countries and 12 languages represented there and feature Kaleb’s picture.

“He was so friendly,” Miller recalled.

“He would come up and he would shake your hand and introduce himself and welcome you to Prince Street and ask your name and ask you if you needed anything. We talk about eye contact and a firm handshake. He was very good at that,” he said.

Superintendent of Schools Dr. Donna Hanlin, issued a statement calling Kaleb’s death “heart wrenching for our community, staff and students.”

“The death of a child is the ultimate tragedy, and one that we are coping with by providing counseling to ensure that we give the comfort and care that is needed for our students and staff.

“This is not an easy time, but the Wicomico County Public Schools community has shown time after time that when adversity strikes, we come together to take care of each other,” Hanlin wrote.

The school posted a letter, written by Principal Miller, asking families to talk to their children about Kaleb’s death and recommending discussion about feelings and written expression of grief in notes or letters.

Parents were alerted to watch for signs of trouble in their little ones, such as aggression or withdrawal.

In Facebook photos, both from 2016, Kaleb, dressed in a green, long-sleeved pullover, was laughing as he reached both arms over his father’s shoulders and pressed his cheek against the man’s neck.

In another, with his father and older brother, at the beach, the elder Chatmon rested his hand on the boy’s chest and Kaleb gripped his dad’s wrist.

“Kaleb was very loving and he loved to help others,” his teacher said.

“He would go out of his way to help anyone who needed a helping hand. He loved to give hugs. He always told you he loved you.

“He was a wonderful, wonderful boy and he is really going to be missed.”

 

Reach Susan Canfora at scanfora@newszap.com.

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