The day after Caleb Thomas Schwab was killed on a Schlitterbahn water slide, his fifth-grade classmates from a tight-knit Christian school gathered at a pastor’s house.
They could ask questions of adults, share their grief with each other and talk about the friend many had known since kindergarten. Teachers from their fourth-grade year at Heritage Christian Academy also were there to lean on Monday night.
“Caleb is a family member, somebody who is part of the fabric of our school,” said Rick Lukianuk, the chief administrator of Heritage Christian, which has an elementary campus in Overland Park and a campus for upper grades in Olathe. “The students could go through the questioning process and begin the healing process.”
Caleb’s death Sunday hit many hard in his small community of church and school, as well as across the Kansas City area. The 10-year-old, second oldest of the four sons of Michele and Scott Schwab of Olathe, headed to the park after church. Scott Schwab is a Kansas state representative and elected officials and their families were invited to Schlitterbahn to enjoy a free visit Sunday.
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Police and emergency responders were called to the water park about 2:30 p.m. after Caleb was found in the water at the bottom of Verrückt, the world’s tallest water slide. Kansas City, Kan., police continue to look into the boy’s death, and officials have said no information will be released until the investigation is complete.
A memorial service took place Friday at Life Mission Church, 16111 S. Lone Elm Road in Olathe. The church was full of young children and their families, as well as lawmakers and families who have attended the church with the family for many years. On Thursday evening, hundreds attended Caleb’s visitation.
At Heritage Christian, where Caleb was one of roughly 30 children in his grade, educators speak of him as a boy who asked deep questions, enjoyed worship service and modern Christian music, and told jokes with pretty good timing. He loved sports, especially baseball, basketball and soccer.
“You could just see how excited the boys were when their dad came every day after school to take them to baseball,” said Principal Kathy Sievert. “I can still picture how happy they were.”
When classes begin Wednesday at Heritage — a K-12 school of about 500 students — Christian counselors will be at both campuses. Pastors will be on hand to help students, and teachers are prepared to comfort children and identify those who are having trouble.
On Thursday, school officials plan to bring in two comfort dogs to be with the elementary school students. The hope is that the animals will help the children relax so they can talk and share their feelings.
Caleb’s older brother is going into seventh grade and will be at the Olathe campus this year. One younger brother is going into first grade and the other is not yet in school.
“He loved his family,” said Clint Sprague, lead pastor of Life Mission Church, who has known Caleb’s parents for about 20 years and was in their wedding. “He was a hugger. The boys like to wrestle with each other and there was many a Nerf gun war.”
At school and church, Caleb was known to stop and help people — a teammate who was struggling or a student who had spilled something.
He and a few buddies also started their own newspaper at school last year, writing stories each week. “They’d probably get their sports info in there, too,” Lukianuk said.
Friends and family, as well as officials at the school, knew Caleb had a strong knowledge of the Bible. He’d talk with people about God and his beliefs.
“Even though he was 10, his faith was very important to him,” Lukianuk said. “You can’t talk about Caleb without talking about this.”
Added Sprague: “He wasn’t just a church boy, he had a relationship with God.”
Last year, when a classmate’s mother died suddenly, Caleb asked to talk with his principal about it. He couldn’t understand why bad things happened to good people.
“He was puzzled by it,” Sievert said. “You just don’t have boys who are 9 years old come to talk that through and question why that would happen.”
They talked about how to make something good out of something bad. Now that’s what the school is trying to do after Caleb’s death. Part of that is remembering him, talking about him.
Lukianuk will remember the times he’d go in and speak to Caleb’s class on different topics. It was pretty much a given that Caleb would ask a question or speak up.
“It was the politician in him, always making sure I knew he was Caleb and I knew he was there,” Lukianuk said. “And that he enjoyed what I had to say.”
The school eventually will discuss how to commemorate Caleb’s life. Not just a physical memorial, but something that will honor who the young man was. Maybe a scholarship or a work project.
“We want a living memorial to him so the kind of kid he was is celebrated,” Lukianuk said. “We lost an extraordinary young man.”