Hundreds of students, parents and faculty members filled Olathe’s Grace United Methodist Church on Tuesday night for a candlelight vigil honoring the lives of two Olathe Northwest High School students who took their own lives over the weekend.
“It’s another step in the healing process,” said the Rev. Nanette Roberts, a senior pastor at the church who helped organize the gathering.
As those close to the teens continued to grieve this week — and school district officials worked to ensure students were provided with the necessary resources — Tuesday’s event offered a reprieve of sorts.
Clusters of teens filed into the church Tuesday evening, many exchanging hugs or handshakes. Some cried. Some chatted quietly. Many seemed unsure how, exactly, to act.
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But after Roberts opened the event with a prayer, dozens stepped forward to share thoughts and memories of the two girls.
They recalled soccer practices and after-school hijinks. They relayed heartfelt messages and embarrassing tales of trips to Sonic gone wrong.
Family members of both girls spoke, thanking those in attendance for their continued support. A stepfather of one of the teens — who called the girl his best friend — urged students to talk to one another, to seek out the help of friends and family.
“I don’t want to see anybody else go through what my family’s going through,” he said.
News of the first death, which occurred when a 16-year-old took her life inside her family’s Olathe home around 4 p.m. Friday, began to circulate over the weekend. By Sunday, Lenexa authorities were investigating the death of a second girl, who was killed in an incident involving a BNSF Railway train at 8:15 p.m. Sunday night near Woodland Road and Prairie Star Parkway.
Both girls were juniors and members of the Olathe Northwest girls soccer team.
On Tuesday, Roberts described the vigil as a way to celebrate the lives of the two teens while also calling attention to the subject of suicide.
“I hope the kids and parents who gather felt they’ve honored these kids’ lives,” Roberts said. “The best way to honor them is to choose to stay alive.”