‘He had been through a lot’: Orlando 9-year-old killed by school bus was cancer survivor

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Elyas Amyr Marshall-Rodriguez was a kind boy. He was a light in the darkness, his family said. At his tender age, he was also a cancer survivor.

Sad as she was, Trenae Gayle’s face beamed as she remembered her young cousin Elyas, who was killed after being hit by a school bus Tuesday afternoon.

“He was one of those kids, you couldn’t come around him sad. He was going to pick you up,” she said. “He was very protective of his brothers and sisters. He worshipped his mother — every morning, he woke her up. Made both of their coffees, sometimes hot chocolate.”

Elyas was publicly identified by family members on Wednesday, as they seek answers to what happened when the 9-year-old was dropped off by an Orange County school bus at his home at the Waterford East Apartments complex in east Orlando. A GoFundMe page has been posted to raise money for the boy’s funeral and other expenses. As of Wednesday evening, it has raised more than $7,800 of its $20,000 goal.

Florida Highway Patrol officials said Elyas was the last kid on the bus Tuesday afternoon. After departing, he ran back to the vehicle and crawled underneath before he was hit. The veteran bus driver did not see him. Some reports have suggested he was chasing a football that bounced under the bus, but Gayle said no one in the family witnessed that.

What the family can describe is who the boy was in his life: an avid football fan with dreams of playing in the NFL, and a joyful child who had been in remission after being diagnosed with leukemia at just two years old. The port through which he received his treatments, Gayle said, had been removed just last year.

“He had already been through a lot in his life, so for this to happen is like a spine lodged in our hearts,” Gayle said.

Elyas was also beloved in his community, making friends with neighbors as well as fellow classmates at Lawton Chiles Elementary School, where he attended third grade. A makeshift memorial was erected in the roundabout just outside the complex, where loved ones paid their respects Wednesday and left behind flowers and balloons in his memory.

Photos of Elyas shared with the Orlando Sentinel show a boy with an infectious smile who enjoyed dressing up, appearing as Michael Jackson and Spiderman. He is survived in part by his mother and two siblings.

“He was a very bubbly person. He loved being around people, he loved being outside,” said Gayle, who spoke on Marshall’s behalf.

Wednesday evening around 7, a crowd of about 100 people gathered at the entrance of the Waterford East Apartment Homes complex to pay their respects at a private candlelight vigil.

Principal Erin Willis sent a message of condolence to parents of students at Lawton Chiles Elementary on Wednesday. Grief counselors were on standby Wednesday for students and staff who needed them.

Gayle thanked the community for the outpouring of support in the wake of Elyas’ death, and acknowledged that the road ahead without him will be a difficult one.

“We can already feel that shift in the home. It’s going to be very hard,” Gayle said. “We just have to take it day by day.”