Students at Starpoint High School in Lockport dealt with the tragic loss of a classmate earlier this year. In our final installment of this school year's Cafeteria Chats WBFO’s senior reporter Eileen Buckley continues her conversation on how profound a classmate's death is for school students.
Colorful construction paper hearts line the walls in an area of the high school. Starpoint students wrote special messages on those hearts to honor their classmate – words like “stay strong”, “kindness”, “you are loved”, “strength”, “friends” and “you can lean on me”.
“Everyone, like, put hearts on his locker that they made out and cut out for him,” said Daniel Mojica. He’s completing his junior year at Starpoint.
Mojica said he didn't know the student personally, but shared a class with him.
“I mean he sat behind me in history, so like I knew him, but just, not very close, but it was sad. It was interesting how people just kind of understood what was going on and everyone like. We had the pep rally that day, and there wasn’t a lot of people there at the pep rally, and it wasn’t as wild and crazy as it usually is. And uh, people just had a moment of respect for each other and that was pretty amazing,” recalled Mojica.
"Like, I saw literally a guy crying in the middle of English, and he, like, he wasn’t close, but they weren’t distant, and he was like full out crying,” described junior Lauren Buchner.
Buchner explained how some students talked to one another, some stayed quiet and others reached out for help. -
"Did you or others seek out the school counseling?” asked Buckley.
“I didn’t personally but I know like my friends did,” replied Buchner.
“Why did they feel that need?” Buckley questioned.
“Well he was, like, really close with him, so he took it really hard. It gave you like a sense of understanding for others. And like, people were really, like, light on what they said. Like, they made sure not to say things that would offend someone, ‘cause it was not the time. ‘Cause everyone was really close to breakin’,” answered Buchner.
"It was very difficult. I knew Jake since I was six,” said Alex Ehrenberg, also a junior. “Actually I wear this purple bracelet on my wrist to remember him.”
Ehrenberg one of the seven total Starpoint students we spoke was friends with the student who died.
“I have a lot of great memories with Jake. He was in Model UN with me. My first ever debate I went to, first conference I went to he was with me. We were Lithuania and it was a blast. So it was very sad,” Ehrenberg explained.
“How has his death changed you as a student?” Buckley asked.
“It has made me a lot more grateful for my friends. For sure. I mean, I would not be where I am without them, and um, I just take a lot less stuff for granted now. Because before I always—I realize how precious life really is now that I’ve lost a classmate. I’ll be like doing something and it’ll like pop into my head and it’ll kinda hit me from time to time. Like, wow, he’s really gone. And it just does that in cycles, it’s just very trying,” Ehrenberg responded.
Ehrenberg described a sense of frustration because he felt a deeper loss than other students who were just acquaintances.
“I was upset, really, because I felt as if it was sort of like in memoriam stuff that was kind of—stayed like a week and then would pass, and everyone would forget him. That’s why I actually started wearing a bracelet, so that I would never forget him. And, uh, honestly, I feel like it sort of stuck with us throughout the whole year. There’s still occasions where someone will bring it up and we’ll talk about it. I like to know that people still think about him,” Ehrenberg described.
“I didn’t know him very well because I came here in ninth grade. But even, like, not knowing him, I felt like—like wow, that’s someone I won’t get to know, and I—I don’t know, it’s just so—I couldn’t believe that it happened. It was just very, like—it was honestly, like, an eye-opener,” said Gionna Mariano, a Starpoint junior.
Starpoint junior Gionna Mariano describing the loss of a classmate.
“What was the general mood when that happened?” asked Buckley.
“Everyone was just kinda, like, lost for words. No one really talked. It was just a lot of-it was a silent understanding of, ‘This happened, we need to be mature about it. We need to, like, be there for people when they need it,” Mariano said.
“That was definitely a shock to me because I personally have never really dealt with anything like that before, so just seeing the way it affected everybody else here was, it was definitely sad, but it definitely also kind of evoked a sense of pride, the way we all came together,” declared Emily Koepnick, also a junior.
Koepnick related how it felt to learn of the student's death.
“I knew of him but I didn’t really know him personally,” said Koepnick.
“Did you see others [suffer] a lot from it?” questioned Buckley.
“Yeah, I definitely saw that some people took it harder than others. I think I found out in lunch, and we all just kind of sat in silence and throughout the rest of the day, I was seeing other kids that hadn’t found out yet that did find out, and the mood was just—it was so heavy. For like, almost a whole day, I didn’t believe it was real. And then kinda the next day it sunk in a little bit more,” described Koepnick.