BATTLE CREEK, Mich. — Memorials for a Lakeview Middle School student who died by suicide have been painted over at multiple schools in the Battle Creek area, sparking outrage.
Lakeview School District officials said no one is defacing the memorials and that schools repainted spirit rocks with tributes that violated district policy.
"My greatest fear always with a student who has a death by suicide is copycat suicide. I've seen it way too many times in education," said Lakeview Superintendent Blake Prewitt.
The memorial painted on the high school's spirit rock violated the district's policy on memorials for student deaths by suicide, which is why, Prewitt said, schools painted over the memorial.
Put in place years ago, the memorial guidelines were developed school counselors and social workers to help students remember the life lost and grieve in a healthy way, without glorifying suicide, Prewitt said.
There is no good balance, Prewitt said, "Respecting and honoring a life that was taken way, way too soon yet also helping students understand this is not the way you can take care of problems. This is not the way out the hurt that you are causing people in suicide is so great."
Written in spray paint on the spirit rock outside Lakeview High School the "Stop bullying" and "In honor of Kaileb" were quickly covered up by a thick coat of white paint and a large image of a yellow ribbon for suicide prevention.
Kaileb Cobb, 13, took his own life after his second day in the 8th grade at Lakeview Middle School Sept. 5.
Zuria Cobb, his sister, said, "It was like genuinely losing a piece of myself and my best friend."
Kaileb left Lakeview Middle School a few months into his 5th grade year after his family moved out of the district, his mom said.
He was home schooled for a couple years then returned to Lakeview Middle School for 8th grade, according to the Cobb family.
Zuria said, "Then going to school where kids are picking on him, he's not used to that, I do genuinely believe that's what stemmed out of it."
Battle Creek Police investigated the 13-year-old's death and found bulling was not a factor.
Kaileb's mom said her son's father was killed in a crash in late-July, but that Kaileb had showed no signs of depression.
Prewitt believes bullying is a problem at every school, "I think anyone would be naive to say that there isn't bullying going on in any school," he said.
Ongoing training for teachers on suicide warning signs continues at Lakeview Schools along with suicide prevention education and support systems for students.
Prewitt said, "My greatest fear always is the next one. I want to be able to take care of the students we have in our buildings and a lot of the work that we do a lot of the suicide prevent that we do is trying to take care of this before a child ever feels the need to take their own life."
Schools in neighboring Battle Creek and Pennfield district have also painted over memorials for Kaileb Cobb, out of concern for copycat suicides.
Prewiit said, "The more we can work as a community I think the better chance we have of hopefully this not happening again."
Anyone who may be struggling with suicidal thoughts should call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255