Park City mourns after death of 8-year-old Trailside student
On Mackenzie Coyne’s final day of school, she was elated to collect her 10th star from her second-grade teacher. The day was already shaping up to be great. It was her eighth birthday, and a party with friends was planned for later — but this would make it even better.
The special 10th star — the form of reward currency in Heidi Kaiserman’s class at Trailside Elementary School — meant Coyne could pick from a list of prizes. She didn’t hesitate: She wanted to eat lunch with Kaiserman.
Less than two weeks after Coyne’s sudden death from complications related to influenza, Kaiserman said it was an experience she’ll never forget.
"That was so touching to me," she said. "We sat there and ate lunch. She had just gotten back from a Disney cruise, and she was just talking about that and her friends here at school. She wasn’t even eating, but it was just ‘Let me tell you about this slide on the cruise!’ She was just a happy girl who was a pleasure to be around."
Trailside Elementary and the rest of Park City are mourning Coyne’s passing. Missy Hilton, a friend and neighbor of Coyne’s family, who moved to town last summer, said the abruptness of it has shaken the community. Coyne first fell ill Saturday, Feb. 13, at a University of Utah gymnastics meet. Her condition rapidly worsened Sunday, and she died later that day.
"It was a matter of only a couple of hours from her being speaking and no fever to literally just completely crashing," Hilton said.
Services were held for Coyne last week in Park City, and in her hometown of Kansas City, where she was set to be buried. Hilton said Coyne’s family wishes to build a memorial to her in Park City. So Hilton started a GoFundMe campaign to help cover the cost. As of Tuesday morning, 506 people had donated more than $32,000 in an outpouring of support Hilton said was "not surprising."
"They moved here and got involved, so I think people want to support them," she said. "And we’re all vulnerable to this kind of thing happening, and we all feel really helpless. This is just an easy way to let the family know that we’re thinking of them and we care. It’s not about the money — it’s about people having an opportunity to throw their name in the hat as a person who cares."
On Monday, the first day of school at Trailside since Coyne’s death, students remembered the girl who had become a close friend to so many since the beginning of the year. Kaiserman talked to Coyne’s classmates about her death and grief counselors were on hand.
They went around the room and shared what they liked about her. Coyne was whip-smart with a heart of gold. She was quick to flash her smile. It was not hard to remember what made her special.
"Everyone just loved her," said Kaiserman, adding that a school-wide event to remember her will be organized in the coming weeks, when her family is back in town. "It’s left a big hole. And it’s one I don’t think will ever be filled."
To contribute to the GoFundMe account for Coyne’s memorial, visit gofundme.com and search "Mackenzie Coyne."
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The Park City School District offices were inadvertently locked, but security footage was reviewed and the only two community members who showed up were let in and joined in an informal chat with Board of Education members and staff.