COLUMBIA – Under skies threatening rain, more than 100 people gathered Friday afternoon to honor Army Spc. Sterling Wyatt, who was killed Wednesday in Kandahar, Afghanistan.
The crowd of friends, family and community members who came to honor Sterling Wyatt's service placed roughly 1,000 American flags around Shepard Elementary School and along adjacent streets, leading from Stadium Boulevard to Shepard Boulevard and then to Old 63.
Sterling Wyatt's grandmother, Barbara Wyatt, who serves as a foster grandmother for Shepard Elementary School, walked from the school to the family's house on Danforth Drive, admiring the display honoring her grandson.
"I just can't believe that his whole neighborhood..." she said, trailing off. "I can't even estimate how many people this must be, at least 100 people, who have turned out for Sterling's recognition and memory of him."
Sharon Salmons, Sterling Wyatt's kindergarten teacher, was one of those gathered at the school to remember him. His death was the first she could recall of any of the pupils she's taught in the 24 years she's been at Shepard Elementary School.
"I think it's my first baby I've lost," Salmons said, breaking into tears. "I get to talk with Barbara Wyatt a lot in the library, hearing stories about him."
"(Friday's gathering) is just a wonderful tribute to who he is and what he is for all of us," Salmons said.
Sterling Wyatt's former Boy Scout Troop 706 and Cub Scout Pack 733 were also on hand in uniform. The boys helped to place flags and to notify residents that flags would be placed on their property. Jeff Simkins, current Pack 733 Cubmaster and military veteran, said he thought the community coming together for one of its soldiers was a great experience for the community and the scouts. Sterling Wyatt achieved the rank of Eagle Scout in 2009.
"Some of the things Scouts do are not that different than what the military does, too," Simkins said. "They have a code to live by to take care of their own and others."
Leanna Guillory, who helped organize the event through social media, was happy with the turnout.
"Oh my gosh, it's overwhelming," Guillory said. "I don't think there's a flag to be found [in Columbia stores]."
Guillory remembered Sterling Wyatt as a big brother to the neighborhood.
That neighborhood was fully flagged by just past 2:30 p.m., just about the time the first drops of rain began to fall.
Sterling Wyatt's parents, Sherry and Randy Wyatt, were on their way home from Dover, Del., and the "dignified transfer" of their son's body, so they hadn't seen the flags yet.
But Barbara Wyatt was sure they'd be touched. "They're going to be surprised to see all of these flags. They're going to probably and hug each other and say, 'Can you believe it?'"
Funeral arrangements were pending.