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Living memorial for slain toddler
tree dedication pic2
The Smith family was in attendance for the unveiling of a plaque dedicating the tree to their lost son. - photo by SABRA STAFFORD / The Journal

The living Christmas tree in the memory of Colton Smith lit up the dark night Wednesday in Delhi during a dedication ceremony for the deceased boy.

The ceremony drew a large gathering of family, friends, and community members touched by the tragic loss the Smith family has had to bear.

Colton was 17 months old when he was mauled to death by a 65-pound pitbull named Max.

On Oct. 23, 2009, Colton was staying with his babysitter in Delhi. The babysitter was also watching the pitbull for family members in the process of moving.

According to the Merced County Sheriff’s Department, Colton wandered into the back yard and was attacked by the pitbull. The dog bit him around the throat and would not let go until the babysitter stabbed it several times with a fork.

The babysitter was rushing Colton to the hospital when she was stopped by sheriff’s Deputy Joey Cardenas. Cardenas performed first-aid on the little boy until an ambulance arrived. Colton later died from his injuries.

At the ceremony, Cardenas said he has been haunted by the memory of that day, which is why he undertook organizing a project to have a fir tree planted at the sheriff department’s sub-station in Delhi as a permanent reminder of Colton.

“This is a bittersweet moment,” Cardenas said during the ceremony. “I’m happy that we’re doing this for Colton, but on the other hand, I’m sad we have to do this.”

The tree will be lit every year and Cardenas hopes it will serve as Delhi’s community Christmas tree for years to come. The young tree is festooned with brightly-colored Christmas bulbs and is adorned with a single gold angel for Colton.

A plaque was mounted in front of the tree, dedicating it to Colton and dubbing him “our precious little angel.”

“By doing this, Colton is still here a little bit with us,” Cardenas said.

During the ceremony Cardenas thanked the numerous people and businesses that helped with the project along the way, including the Delhi Unified School District, the Merced County Sheriff’s Deputy Association, and the Delhi Volunteer Fire Department.

Following the sheriff’s investigation, the pitbull was euthanized. There were no charges brought against the babysitter.

To contact Sabra Stafford, e-mail or call 634-9141 ext. 2002.