The Clovis Unified community is mourning the death of Fort Washington Elementary School administrator Gavin Gladding, who died in a hit-and-run incident early Sunday morning.
Gladding was running along Friant Road around 6 a.m. Sunday when he was struck by a pickup truck. The driver fled the scene, and Gladding was pronounced dead at Community Regional Medical Center.
On Monday morning, posters, flowers and balloons lined the fence of his home campus in his memory. More flowers and cards were gathered outside of the school office.
Nidia Payan, the mother of a second-grader at Fort Washington, said she she broke the news to her daughter Sunday night.
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“I asked her, ‘Do you remember Mr. Gladding?’ And she said, ‘Yes, of course,’ and I just told her he wouldn’t be with us anymore.” Payan said. “She was definitely crying.”
Payan said she remembers Gladding as a welcoming face at the school, who always greeted kids as they were dropped off in the mornings and enthusiastically participated in spirit days. She said her daughter had written a letter to Gladding’s family that was among the many cards and drawings left outside of the school office’s doors.
District spokeswoman Kelly Avants said the school has staff going from classroom to classroom to speak to students, with school psychologists also available for individual sessions.
Avants also shared a statement from the Gladding family that said they’re working with local law enforcement on the case.
“Gavin was a loving husband, father, son, brother and friend to many. He was a beloved teacher and educator in Clovis Unified since 2005,” the statement read. “He has touched many childrens’ lives as their teacher and as the Vice Principal at Fort Washington Elementary.”
Gladding was training for a marathon, according to his family. Avants said he had served in the Peace Corps and had been involved with the San Joaquin Parkway River Trust. He is married with young children.
Avants said students have described Gladding as a good sport, someone who allowed himself to be turned into an ice cream sundae or duct-taped to the cafeteria walls.
Avants said she’s not aware of any fundraisers to benefit the family yet, but that community members who wish to help should keep an eye on the school’s website for opportunities from the campus parent-teacher club.
“This is just such a close-knit community and family at Fort Washington. The parent community has just wrapped their arms around this school, through stopping by, with encouraging words,” Avants said.
Former students of Gladding’s have taken to social media to share their memories of the longtime Clovis Unified employee, who worked as a science teacher at Alta Sierra Intermediate and Clovis West High School before joining Fort Washington as a guidance instructional specialist in 2015.
Former Fresno State student body president Blake Zante was a student of Gladding’s at Clovis West. He said Gladding had written him a letter of recommendation for his college applications, and “never hesitated to offer a helping hand.”
“He was an amazing educator and always aimed to inspire his students to make a positive difference in the world. His passion for education and helping others extended well beyond the classroom,” Zante wrote in a Facebook post. “Prayers for the Clovis West family and for Mr. Gladding’s family.”
Fresno resident Beth Izard, who had Gladding as a science teacher at Alta Sierra Intermediate, said the educator would be missed.
“I can’t make heads or tails of how someone can live with the guilt of killing him and driving off,” Izard wrote. “He had such a positive impact on so many students and was such a nice guy.”
Other social media posts have included reminders to drive safely and appeals for the driver of the pickup truck to come forward.
Police are still searching for the person responsible. The vehicle was described as a black, possibly single-cab early 2000s model GMC Sierra, but witnesses could not give a description of the driver or the license plate.
California Highway Patrol said the truck may also have a shattered right-side passenger window, a missing right-side mirror, and front-end damage. It may also be missing the front GMC grille emblem.