Slain Jacksonville teacher honored 14 months after murder


JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Fourteen months after Deborah Liles' life was cut short in a home invasion beating, the Jacksonville music teacher was honored Friday at her annual "Day of the Arts" event at San Jose Elementary.

Michael Liles, who heads the Justice Coalition, a victims' advocate group, said the event was one his late wife spearheaded over the years. Now, it's become something of a school tradition.

"The new music teacher is committed to the same music philosophies that my wife was, so we're thrilled with that," he told News4Jax.

The event is an opportunity for students to be exposed to all the arts have to offer, from visual art to performance it. Over the years, Liles brought in everyone from Broadway stars to professional dancers.

On Friday, students started their day with an opening ceremony before a series of half-hour sessions with Japanese musicians, guitarists, Caribbean percussionists, chalk artists, dances and more.

Deborah Liles, 62, was beaten to death in a home invasion last year at the couple's Panama Park home. State Attorney Melissa Nelson plans to seek the death penalty for her killer.

Liles' husband, who admits he's still coming to grips with her loss, said carrying on with the tradition not only allows her memory to live on, but also gives students an chance to cope with her death.

Before she passed, Liles made it her mission to put a musical instrument in the hands of every student she taught. So each year, she applied for grants to pay for the instruments.

Her husband said she wanted her students to have instruments in the hopes that it would bring harmony and peace to their day, no matter how chaotic life outside class could be.

"Music can speak to us in ways that simple language won't. My wife used to say, 'Where words fail, music speaks to the soul," he said.