Fairfield High School hosts memorial for murdered teacher Nohema Graber
Christian Graber found a notebook in his mother’s office.
In it, Nohema Graber wrote what she described as a simple but powerful plan for herself: She started to ‘smile all the time’.
Christian Graber read his mother’s words aloud to a full house in the auditorium at Fairfield High School on Tuesday night. The room was silent. They were there to honor his mother, the school’s Spanish teacher who police said was killed on November 2 by two 16-year-old students.
Nohema Graber vowed to smile on everyone she met because smiling is contagious, her son read, and she wanted to be a positive role model for her students.
Even though Graber’s students didn’t remember her or her Spanish class, she wrote: “I hope they remember smiling … to be honest.”
Graber would have turned 67 on Wednesday, November 10.
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The death of Fairfield’s beloved teacher left the community heartbroken and stunned. Tuesday’s prayer and vigil drew hundreds of members of the Fairfield community who remember Graber as being full of life and a leader in the community, as someone who has always been passionate about his family and students , its Mexican roots and the building of intercultural bridges.
Some at the vigil shared memories they had of Graber, their favorite things about him and his legacy.
Father Nick Adam of St. Mary’s Catholic Church spoke of Graber’s devotion to her faith and how she always led with the light.
Graber’s niece spoke of her glow – the glow in her eyes, the glow she got every time she laughed, the glow she brought to every family reunion.
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Some members of the St. Mary’s Church community spoke of Graber’s wonderful and gentle soul, his heart of gold and beautiful spirit, and his ability to bring people from different cultures together to worship.
And members of the Fairfield Latino community didn’t call Graber a friend, they called his family. Everywhere she went, she created a family, they said.
Like when Elizabeth’s son Goytia was diagnosed with a brain tumor 12 years ago, it was Graber who prayed with Goytia every day. Her now healthy son was with Goytia on Tuesday evening.
Graber always reminded him that there is always hope and light among the darkness.
âI want to remember her – I have to remember her this way – as a woman of faith,â said Goytia, 33. “She gave us hope.”
Many of Graber’s students and teachers had also lined up to share memories of Graber at Tuesday’s vigil – like her dreaded “40 sentences” exercise that the students secretly loved, or the way she said “hello.” in his singing voice.
The way she glided through the halls of the school like an angel. The way she cared so much for each of her students.
âShe had a love for life that will stay with me forever,â said Loreena Hucke, a former student.
And everyone who shared the mic on Tuesday night said there was no Fairfield community without Nohema Graber.
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Learn more about the investigation into the death of Nohema Graber
Police found Graber’s body under a tarp, wheelbarrow and railroad ties in the city’s Chautauqua Park on November 3. Detectives wrote that their preliminary investigation indicated that Graber had suffered “trauma to the head.”
And police allege two teenage students – Willard Noble Chaden Miller, 16, and Jeremy Everett Goodale, 16 – are responsible for his death.
They have been charged with first degree homicide and first degree conspiracy to commit homicide and will be tried as adults due to the nature of their crimes and their age, according to city officials.
Investigators say an associate of the students provided information from social media exchanges that indicated one of them would have known the details of Graber’s disappearance and death – including the implication on the other hand, their motive for killing Graber, the planning and execution of the murder, and “attempts to cover up the crime.
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Andrea Sahouri covers social justice for the Des Moines registry. She can be contacted at email@example.com, on Twitter @andreamsahouri, or by phone at 515-284-8247.