SALT LAKE CITY — The Salt Lake City school community is mourning the death of a longtime para educator, who family in Peru confirmed passed away from COVID-19.
He died surrounded by fellow Salt Lake City educators, who made sure Eddye Valenzuela wasn't alone in his final moments.
Valenzuela, or "Mr. V" as the kids called him, was known for his work with families and kids on the west side, at both Glendale Middle School and West High School.
Valenzuela's colleagues described him as always greeting them with a warm smile and expressing genuine care for students.
Keri Taddie, Coordinator at Glendale-Mountain View Community Learning Center, got to know Valenzuela through his work at Glendale Middle School, which is in the same building complex as the Community Learning Center.
She said Valenzuela was great at "really making people feel welcome, making students and families feel welcome."
According to those who knew him, Valenzuela worked at the Salt Lake City School District for 13 years, most of that time spent at Glendale. It was in the last year or so, they said, that he transferred to West High School to work in the Special Education Department.
"He took the time to get to know the kids," said Chris Gesteland, West Network Director at the Salt Lake City School District.
Gesteland also knew Valenzuela well from Glendale, where Gesteland used to be the principal.
He talked about how Valenzuela was one of the few educators who was able to translate for Spanish-speaking families. He connected the families to resources, and helped students succeed in school.
"He provided an amazing bridge between us and many of our community members," Gesteland said. "Because not only did he translate, but he was able to develop relationships with families."
For Valenzuela, those relationships turned into a real sense of family.
"Because he didn't have family here, the school community became that space for him," Taddie explained. "And so, it was important to him. He really cared about the students authentically, and not just because it was his job."
Valenzuela was alone in Utah, Taddie said, having moved here from Peru to pursue a job in education.
It was those school family members, like Gesteland, who stood by Valenzuela last Friday in the hospital.
"I was able to be at Eddye's bedside when he passed," Gesteland said.
While Gesteland and Taddie couldn't confirm or speak of how Valenzuela died, Valenzuela's family in Peru told FOX 13 the paraprofessional recently contracted COVID-19.
The family members said they believe he contracted it at home from roommates.
They said Valenzuela initially went to the hospital, but then was sent home with oxygen. They described how a week before he passed away, he had a fever and a hard time breathing.
Valenzuela went back to the hospital, where he died.
His cousins described him as a great person who did a lot for his community, and was always taking care of his mother and family back in Peru.
"His time was cut short," Taddie said. "It wasn't time for him to go. It was unnecessary, and I think that's to me is the biggest tragedy."
Valenzuela's family had to say goodbye to him over video chat, as colleagues surrounded him in person on Friday.
"He got to message his family. He got to see videos shared from Peru. He got to see pictures shared from Peru," Gesteland recounted. "He had a cousin playing him music, and there were all of these little pieces that were able to happen on Friday morning that I think brought Eddye a lot of peace in that time and space."
While they brought Valenzuela peace in his last moments, his school family is now left with a devastating loss.
The Salt Lake City School District confirmed Valenzuela's death, but could not confirm the cause, saying they can't comment on private employee health matters.
Gesteland set up a GoFundMe to help raise the funds to return Valenzuela's remains home to Peru, as well as funds to support his family.