LAKE STEVENS – The memory of Sirita Sotelo – who was only 4 when she was fatally beaten two years ago – will live on in a tangible way.
Lake Stevens, with help from community groups, is planning a playground for tots at Lundeen Park in Sirita’s name.
The idea for memorializing Sirita was hatched by a resident to coincide with the state’s recent passage of “Sirita’s Law,” which strengthens protections for children who are removed from their parents.
Sirita had been shuffled between foster homes before she was beaten to death by her stepmother in their home near Lundeen Park on Jan. 21, 2005.
Teresa Bannon of Lake Stevens said she has no connection with the family. She simply wants Sirita to be remembered.
“I love children and I didn’t want her name to be forgotten, and I didn’t want this to happen ever again in Lake Stevens,” she said. “You can see her house from the street where I drive by.”
Sirita’s relatives were touched to learn that the community wanted to remember Sirita with a playground for children.
Jesse Rivas and his wife, who live in California, welcomed Sirita into their home for a time. Sirita’s mother is Rivas’ cousin.
“I think it’s a great honor for her. I think it’s very sweet,” Jesse Rivas said. “It’s incredible after all this time people are still supportive and haven’t forgotten her.”
The city will put up $6,000 toward the estimated $14,000 cost of the playground equipment, and service groups have volunteered to raise the rest, city administrator Jan Berg said. Construction is targeted for mid-August.
Bannon approached the city to honor Sirita’s memory with a bench and a tree, said Scotty Swift, public works coordinator for the city of Lake Stevens. But Bannon’s idea triggered another thought for Swift: building the playground.
The park at 10020 Lundeen Parkway already has a playground geared toward children ages 6 and older.
The city had a long-term goal of building another playground at Lundeen for younger children, Swift said. But it wasn’t planned anytime soon until this idea came along, she said.
Swift approached Berg with the idea, and the two took it to the city’s Parks Board. The panel recommended to the City Council that the city pitch in $6,000, and the council voted June 25 to approve it.
The new playground will be built next to the current one so parents with younger and older children will be able to keep an eye on both.
The Lake Stevens Kiwanis Club is putting up $3,000, club president Dave Minch said.
“We’re going to challenge all the other service clubs to match it, if they will,” he said.
The Lake Stevens Lions and Rotary clubs and Aquafest have pledged to participate, city officials said. A raffle to benefit the playground is planned during Aquafest, the city’s summer festival scheduled for July 27-29, Swift said.
A tree will still be part of the memorial, and will likely be planted this fall, Bannon said. A groundbreaking ceremony for the playground is planned for July 21 – the day Sirita’s Law goes on the books.
Under the new law, state caseworkers must follow more stringent schedules to find a safe home for children. The law also requires all adults living in the family to undergo background checks – something that did not occur in Sirita’s case – among other new safeguards.
Herald reporter Diana Hefley contributed to this story.