MARYSVILLE — A family with deep roots in the community is hosting a toy drive Saturday, hoping to begin healing from a tragedy.
“We haven’t even really started grieving yet,” said Teri Miller, an emergency room physician and Erik Denton’s cousin. “I know Erik hasn’t even really begun the grieving process.”
In April, Denton’s three children were slain in Southern California, following a custody dispute involving Denton and their mother Liliana Carrillo. Carrillo was charged with murder. According to reporting by the Los Angeles Times, Denton obtained an emergency court order for the children’s custody in March and asked for a mental health evaluation of Carrillo.
The family believes the system failed them.
The toy drive is a means of healing for Denton, who is known in his family for having a kind heart and taking care of others.
“People started asking us, ‘Are you going to have a vigil, are you going to have a memorial service?’ The first thing Erik said was that he wanted to have a toy drive,” Miller said. “As opposed to having a funeral service with flowers, (he wanted) something that would actually mean something for other kids.”
It has also allowed the family to come together for a common cause, Erik’s mother Tracy Jellison said. Jellison’s nieces and nephews, as well as close family friends, have all volunteered to help.
Denton has always been the guy that’s there for others — now his family is hopeful that the community will be there for him.
The family will be accepting new toys with tags for kids ages birth to 5, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday at the Grove Church, 4705 Grove St. in Marysville. All donations go to the Marysville Food Bank Toy Store. Donations can also be made online at marysvillefoodbank.org with a note for “Erik’s Toy Drive.”
Denton, a Marysville native, was a father above all else.
“When he had kids, I mean, it settled him,” Miller said. “It changed who he was and it became who he was — he finally found himself.”
Denton spent much of his own childhood with his grandparents, the Hubbards, in their white castle-like house in Marysville.
He was a bit of a “wild child,” Miller said. As an adult, being able to pass on skills he learned from his grandpa Terry Hubbard, like fishing and pitching a tent, gave him new purpose.
Jellison said they’ve always been an outdoorsy family.
Erik’s son Terry, 2, loved insects.
“He would get fixated,” Miller said. “And so Erik would get down on the ground and show him where the anthill was. And then Terry would just crouch there and just watch the ants crawling along — he was just fascinated by them.”
His daughter Joanna, 3, was full of energy, like Erik in his younger years.
All three kids — Joanna, Terry and Sierra, who was 6 months old — were captivated by birds that visited the feeders their dad placed in their yard. They were just beginning to learn sign language and signed “bird” whenever they flew in, Miller said.
Since the tragedy, Erik has been working to find his footing while spending time outside, surrounded by family. He has been on camping trips. He bought a pink kayak. He has gone fishing and crabbing. But ultimately, his healing will be wrapped into helping others and giving to kids in need.
The toy drive is the first step, Jellison said.
“It’ll be good for Erik,” she said, “to see how many people believe in supporting kids.”
Isabella Breda: 425-339-3192; firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @BredaIsabella.