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Mattapan playground named for toddler who died in 1996

Jermaine Robinson, 11, and Elijah Crowder, 6, played on a tire swing during the dedication of the Tre’Vaughn Anthony Matthews Tot Lot in Mattapan.

Wendy Maeda/Globe staff

Jermaine Robinson, 11, and Elijah Crowder, 6, played on a tire swing during the dedication of the Tre’Vaughn Anthony Matthews Tot Lot in Mattapan.

A section of a city park in Mattapan was dedicated Saturday morning to the memory of a toddler who died there in May 1996, officials said.

Tre’Vaughn Matthews was 2½ when he sat at the top of a slide in Almont Park with other children from his day-care center. The drawstring on his windbreaker got caught in a hole as he started sliding, choking him.

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A medical examiner later determined he had been hanging on the slide for one to two minutes before he was released, already in cardiac arrest. He was pronounced dead in Boston City Hospital.

Tre’Vaughn’s mother, Sonya Matthews-Stoudemire, traveled from her home in Georgia to attend the rededication ceremony at the park, which has been a painful reminder of her loss and a symbol of the community that supported her after her son’s death. “Initially with this happening to my son, yeah, I hated that park,” she said.

But she would still find herself going to there every night and sitting on the slide thinking, “My God, how could this happen?”

Matthews-Stoudemire grew up several blocks from the park, and in the years following her son’s death, the community helped her heal, she said. So when the City of Boston announced plans to renovate the park — including safety improvements — she was happy to have her son’s name on it.

On Saturday morning, Matthews-Stoudemire, her 13-year-old daughter, and her 11-year-old son helped Mayor Thomas M. Menino cut the ribbon to dedicate the Tre’Vaughn Anthony Matthews Tot Lot, said Jacquelyn Goddard, a spokeswoman for the city’s Parks and Recreation Department.

“It was sad, there were some tears shed because of the tragedy that occurred, and the family did lose a wonderful little boy,” Goddard said. “But it was a beautiful tribute, and I know the family did appreciate naming the tot lot after their son.”

The ceremony marked the end of phase one of renovations at the park. With $796,000 for design and construction allocated through Boston’s capital improvement plan, the Parks and Recreation Department installed rubber surfaces to play on, climbing structures, a large ring for children to spin on, and other play equipment, Goddard said. City officials plan to continue renovating the 18-acre park, installing basketball and tennis courts, a new field, track, lighting, a designated play area for dogs, and outdoor exercise equipment, according to a Parks and Recreation Department statement.

The renovation will probably cost several million dollars, Goddard said.

Matthews-Stoudemire and her two children stayed at the park for a short while after the ceremony before boarding a flight back home. They posed for photos with former neighbors.

“It was bittersweet,” Matthews-Stoudemire said, after arriving back at her Georgia home. “It means a lot that my son’s death really hasn’t been forgotten.”

Gal Tziperman Lotan can be reached at gal.lotan@globe.com. Todd Feathers can be reached at todd.feathers@globe.com or @ToddFeathers.
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