LUTZ — Over the last month, as a team of teachers at Learning Gate Community School raised money for the American Cancer Society, they might not have expected much participation from first-grader Zachary Freiberg.
Zachary lived in a mobile home near Bearss and Livingston avenues. His mother worked at Wal-Mart.
But Zachary, 7, wanted to help.
"He brought in change over and over again," said Zachary's teacher, Lisa Arias. "I have it in a bucket. None of the other children did that."
This week, Arias and much of the Learning Gate family were plunged into shock by the discovery of Zachary, his mother and his young sister, brutally slain in their mobile home. Learning Gate particularly mourned the Freiberg they knew best, a brilliant, affectionate boy who had charmed the school since he was a preschooler.
"He was very loving," said Betsy Sarginson, a pre-K teacher. Two years after attending Sarginson's class, Zachary still gave her a hug every morning, she said.
Crisis counselors gathered at Learning Gate on Tuesday morning, the day after Zachary's grandmother found the bodies.
Based on their guidance, principal Patti Girard sent parents a letter urging them to reassure children that they are safe and that it's okay to feel sad about Zachary.
Girard advised the parents to shield their kids from television and newspapers.
"I've been in education for 38 years," Girard told the Times. "It's the first time I've had to deal with this. I've had to deal with parents dying, but I've never had to deal with losing an entire family."
Even in first grade, Zachary was a zealous student.
His mother, Lisa Freiberg, recently called Arias at home about a homework problem.
"He insisted that he wanted to type his report," Arias said. "I said, 'Sure!' "
Zachary was independent and industrious, Arias said.
"He liked to be the first done with his work," she said.
Freiberg volunteered in the school's lunchroom and organic garden.
"She was a very dedicated mom," said Girard. "She knew how important education was."
For Teacher Appreciation Week last week, Zachary made a card for Arias. But he wasn't satisfied, Girard said. He asked speech therapist Maggie Christy for perfume, to make the card smell good. All Christy had was a large spray bottle of Febreze, the fabric refresher. Zachary nearly soaked the card.
Arias said Zachary's first-grade writing had "personality and voice."
"His was a step ahead of the rest," she said.
On Tuesday, Zachary was supposed to join the rest of Learning Gate's first grade on a trip to a beach on Tampa Bay. But as the children waited in their swimsuits, a school system psychologist talked to them about the boy's death and how they should cope.
When you're sad, tell an adult and do things that make you feel better.
So at the beach, they did. They built two sand castles for Zachary, Arias said. Then they clustered around them in a hug and bowed their heads.
Bill Coats can be reached at (813) 269-5309 or firstname.lastname@example.org. He has a son at Learning Gate Community School.