Kevin Kelley, a Wellington High School freshman, remembered Monday how it felt to learn that his longtime friend Tyson McKinley had taken his own life Sept. 20.
“It still hurts pretty bad,” he said. “Bullying needs to be explained to people until it becomes annoying and stuck in their heads. Tyson was my best friend for nine years. Everything didn’t really hit me until about a week after it happened. I’ve been doing a little better but I’ll always miss him.”
His comments came after a Rachel’s Legacy event held for all residents at the Patricia Lindley Center. The program is named after Rachel Joy Scott, the first student gunned down in the 1999 Columbine High School massacre.
Rachel’s Legacy is a continuation of Rachel’s Challenge, which came to Wellington for the first time last school year and presents ways the teen spread kindness to others and fought bullying throughout her life.
Earlier Monday, WHS and McCormick Middle School students took in the presentation before the Friends of Rachel Club offered training on ways to stamp out bullying and identify mental health problems in peers.
Speaker Chris Mowery offered condolences to friends and family of McKinley and said that earlier in the day McCormick principal Nathan Baxendale had learned his niece, Rachel Joy, is named after Scott.
“I’ve heard about Tyson and I couldn’t be more heartbroken about it,” Mowery said. “Unfortunately, the number of schools I’ve spoken at that have had something like that happen are in the dozens. We’re thinking of you and hopefully something will come out of this that we can build something good with.”
Scott had an impact during her lifetime. She’s credited with reaching out to school bullies to see what was causing their hostile behavior and stopping to help a local DJ change a flat tire during a thunderstorm. After her death, Scott’s story inspired two Michigan communities muddled in years of hostility to come together during a high school football game and put their differences aside.
Her story has clearly had an impact here in Wellington.
After the Rachel’s Legacy event, a group of McCormick students sitting with Kelley talked about their experiences, including seventh-grader Mikayla Standen. She shared a long embrace with Kelley after the two discussed McKinley’s death.
“I’ve seen people be broken down mentally for years around here and everyone just thought it was normal,” she said. “With Tyson, everything just got worse. We were all pretty good friends. I was walking to choir and one of my friends just ran up and said he was dead. It took a good five minutes before I cried hysterically.”
“It was a lot to deal with when I found out what happened,” said seventh-grader Estella Ohly, whose sister, WHS senior Ezra, is one of the founding members of the Friends of Rachel Club. “We’ve learned about forgiveness in Rachel’s Challenge. Knowing who shoved Tyson and called him names before he killed himself is hard to forgive, but I’m working on it.”
Maya Feron and Joleisa Sizer said to never underestimate the impact words can have, especially for someone in the midst of difficult life circumstances.
“Every little word can truly affect someone’s future — how they think and their mindset,” said Feron. “You don’t know how they’ll think until they react do it. You don’t know what people are going through. Even if you’re the bully, you can be the one going through something.”
“I feel like some people just say things with no thought of how it affects other people,” Sizer said. “If something bad is going on in your home or other places, the smallest thing going wrong in school can be terrible. Saying ‘I was just joking’ doesn’t make it OK. If you say something harsh to someone, it’s not that easy to take it back.”
Seventh-grader McKenna Soboslay said the uptick in combating bullying at McCormick has been evident.
“Compared to a few years ago, it seems like the teachers are around more now and that helps,” she said. “Especially this year, the reaction seems incredible. There will always be people who want to be mean in school, but if more hear about Rachel’s Challenge and this chain reaction, they’ll want to get involved and stop acting that way.”
Jonathan Delozier can be reached at 440-647-3171 or @DelozierNews on Twitter.