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Middle-school student dies playing handball

March 12, 2010 12:00:00 AM PST
Students and faculty at Costa Mesa Middle School are in mourning following the sudden death of 14-year-old Eric Valdez. By all accounts, the teenager was a well-liked student who worked hard. Students and staff are trying to make sense of the loss.It was Wednesday at about 4:40 p.m. when Eric Valdez, a 14-year-old middle school student in Costa Mesa, collapsed while playing handball with a group of friends. He died later just after 6 p.m. Students, faculty and staff are still trying to cope with the loss of a well-liked 8th-grader.

Valdez was known as the "Gentle Giant" on campus.

"I miss him a lot," said classmate Hector Soria. "I hate to see him, that to hear that he is already gone. Everybody misses him."

It's been a tough time for the Costa Mesa Middle School community. Counselors were on campus to help students and staff deal with the loss.

"The staff has come together, the kids have come together and it all comes down to the love and support that we all felt for the Valdez family and for Eric," said Principal Aaron Peralta.

The cause of death won't be known for several weeks.

Funeral arrangements are pending. The Valdez family wants to include Eric's middle school community in the plans.

"The kids characterize Eric as the 'Gentle Giant,'" said Peralta. "And it's indicative of his good nature: respectful, pleasant, well-mannered, and everything that we expect of our students. More importantly, it's very representative of his great upbringing of the job that the family did."

"He was like really nice," said classmate Raul Becerio. "He stayed after school to help the teachers staple stuff, and in the beginning he came early in school to open the books."

Peralta said because he was such a hard worker keeping his grades up and helping around the school, other students followed his cue.