PINELLAS PARK — Julian Rosario-Valentin was typical of many 5-year-old boys: He adored Buzz Lightyear. He loved to play T-ball. And he wanted to make people laugh.
In September, he complained of a headache. Two days later, on Sept. 8, Julian died of a heart ailment.
Now Pinellas Park officials have agreed to do something they've never done before. They're letting his mother erect a life-sized bronze statue of Julian in one of their parks.
Cait Valentin chose Youth Park, where Julian often played and was a member of a T-ball team.
"That's his favorite park," Valentin said.
City Manager Mike Gustafson said his initial response to the request was to deny it and offer an alternative. The city, he said, has trees that were planted and park benches that are dedicated to the memory of loved ones. But a statue, even if paid for by the family, opens the door for similar memorials by others who want to honor a departed loved one or even a treasured pet or horse. Gustafson talked individually to council members, who unanimously agreed to let Valentin go ahead.
"This is a council decision," Gustafson said. "If somebody else (wants a statue), I'll take it to the council."
The family has agreed to pay for the statue, about $15,000, and the upkeep, Gustafson said.
The statue is expected to go up in late June.
Valentin's determination to have a statue of her son was fostered by her grief and her belief that it's what Julian himself wants.
At the time of his death, he lived in Pinellas Park with Valentin and his sister, Alivia, at his maternal grandmother's house. He loved to watch SpongeBob SquarePants. He was popular in his kindergarten class at Rawlings Elementary School and on his Pony League T-ball team at Youth Park. He wanted to be Justin Bieber, copying all the pop star's dance moves. He liked to play his Wii.
"He was my best friend, my other half, the most helpful little boy in the world. He would do anything for anybody at any given moment," Valentin said. "He loved his life. ... He said he was going to go to college to fix cars and make money to buy his own monster truck with huge gold rims. He absolutely loved baseball. We all believed he would be the next baseball superstar. He put everything he had into baseball. ... He was perfect."
There was no reason to think Julian wouldn't grow up and reach at least some of those goals, his mother said. He had always been healthy. And when she took him for a physical on Sept. 5, he got a clean bill of health.
The next day, Julian appeared to be normal until the evening, when he complained about a headache. The next day, she took him to school but he came home early, complaining of another headache. She took him to the doctor that night and again the next day. The doctor told her to take Julian to the hospital for a brain scan. Before she left the doctor's parking lot, Valentin noticed reddish purple marks on his hands. She sped to All Children's Hospital. As they turned into the drive, Julian began having trouble breathing.
"I just kept telling him, 'Everything is going to be okay,' " Valentin said. Less than an hour after they reached the hospital, Julian's heart stopped and he was gone.
"Hearing the words 'Julian died today' was the moment I died with him," Valentin said. "A piece of me was then dead."
An autopsy concluded Julian had died of myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart muscle. Causes include infections and viruses, such as influenza, that settle in the heart. It can be hard to diagnose because the symptoms are subtle and mimic other illnesses, such as a bad case of the flu.
"All Julian had was a headache," Valentin said. "It's just so crazy to me."
She created a Facebook page and a website in Julian's memory. She sponsored his T-ball team, giving them shirts that said "In loving memory of Julian, To Infinity and Beyond." She designed T-shirts with his picture and the slogan "To Infinity and Beyond," Buzz Lightyear's catchphrase. She placed a memorial bench at Rawlings.
She and Julian's father, Esteban Rosario of Seminole, consulted psychic medium Joseph LoBrutto III of West Palm Beach.
LoBrutto told her before the autopsy that Julian's heart had been the problem. LoBrutto also told her that Julian wanted a statue of himself.
LoBrutto said Julian wanted to be remembered, especially by his father.
"The son says, 'I want you to put up a statue of me, so you can see me and remember,' " LoBrutto said.
Valentin called Pinellas Park and was turned down.
"I couldn't take that as an answer," she said.
She wrote to Pinellas Park council member Patti Johnson, who forwarded the request to Gustafson. Johnson agreed the decision is precedent setting. But is it a good decision?
"I'm going to have to say yes," Johnson said.
As for future requests, she echoed Gustafson, saying, "I think the circumstances will have to be carefully deliberated by the council."
Anne Lindberg can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8450.
Some information used in this report comes from the U.S. National Library of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health, the Cincinnati Children's Hospital, the Mayo Clinic and the Seattle Children's Hospital.