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Scotts Valley
June 23, 2024

Friends, Family Say Late Scotts Valley Teen Left His Mark

More than 200 people packed a Celebration of Life held Saturday at Roaring Camp, in Felton, for Mateo Deihl, a boy who spread positivity in life, and now, in death, has inspired people across the county to push for more-welcoming school environments.

He was discovered on Feb. 3, after dying in an apparent suicide.

“We were astounded at how many people were there,” his mom, Regina Deihl, told the Press Banner. “It was just an amazing gathering.”

As a history-reenacting blacksmith cranked up a fire outside, the unseasonably warm sun beat down on a line of people wearing pink, burgundy and cherry hues, in Mateo’s honor. They were waiting to enter the “opera house” where the ceremony took place, and to get their BE KIND bracelet.

One teen boy told the mourners how Mateo was exceptionally kind and liked to include others in activities, such as when a girl asked to watch the Disney movie “Frozen” with them at the Scotts Valley Library.

Cameron Ross, 14, said despite the limitations of digital schooling, it was actually during the pandemic that his friendship with Mateo blossomed.

“I remember all of us singing songs over Zoom,” he said, adding Mateo loved dogs, and was a fun guy who’d take on heroic challenges. “Mateo ate one of the spiciest chips in the world.”

He told the Press Banner he was touched by the pipe cleaner butterfly Mateo made for him.

“It was a selfless act,” he said of the gift. “I just thought it was a kind thing.”

Randy Klein, one of his teachers, said Mateo’s death set off an emotional shockwave.

“His impact on our community is widespread,” he said. “I will always cherish knowing Mateo.”

Mateo’s mom wrote in a social media post that her son, who was of Hispanic descent, faced race-based discrimination, and that Mateo’s peers at Scotts Valley High School had recently shunned Mateo after he raised concerns about drug issues on campus.

More than 60 people had signed a change.org petition by press time titled “Stand Against Bullying at Scotts Valley High School,” and SVHS alumna Kayla Carrillo, who is Mexican, posted an open letter calling on the school district to do more to try to extinguish racism.

Faris Sabbah, the superintendent with the County Office of Education, said he, too, met with family and friends over the weekend to share his condolences.

“As I learned more about Mateo, I was deeply moved by his compassion, encouragement of others, and his contagious smile,” he said. “Mateo had so much more to share with the world, and our community is devastated by his loss.”

He notes the COE offers an array of mental health and diversity supports to school districts, including Social Emotional Learning materials, staff training programs and suicide prevention offerings.

“Additionally, the COE directly provides highly individualized education in Alternative Education programs throughout the county serving all school district geographic areas,” he said, adding the schools employ a variety of socio-emotional counselors, social workers, school psychologists and contract therapists.

Sabbah says he has full confidence that Scotts Valley Unified School District will continue to promote an equitable learning environment.

SVUSD has planned two simultaneous inclusivity “listening sessions” for Feb. 24 at 6:30pm—one for white parents, and one for parents of other backgrounds.

During the Celebration of Life Mateo’s family urged attendees to look into A Home Within, an Oakland-based NGO that assists foster children with psychological supports.

They have created a memorial fund in Mateo’s name to fund pro-bono service for such youth.

Drew Penner
Drew Penner
Drew Penner is an award-winning Canadian journalist whose reporting has appeared in the Globe and Mail, Good Times Santa Cruz, Los Angeles Times, Scotts Valley Press Banner, San Diego Union-Tribune, KCRW and the Vancouver Sun. Please send your Los Gatos and Santa Cruz County news tips to [email protected].

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