Harrisonville family fights to have former student who took her - KCTV5

Harrisonville family fights to have former student who took her own life honored at graduation

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In late 2016, Keil’s sister, Gabirelle Keil, took her own life. She would have graduated from Harrisonville High School this year and she wants her name announced during the ceremony. (Family photo) In late 2016, Keil’s sister, Gabirelle Keil, took her own life. She would have graduated from Harrisonville High School this year and she wants her name announced during the ceremony. (Family photo)
HARRISONVILLE, MO (KCTV) -

It is all about ending the stigma surrounding suicide says one woman who is fighting to have her sister’s name announced during what would have been her high school graduation. 

“All I want is them to honor her for the academic career," Jennifer Keil said.

In late 2016, Keil’s sister, Gabirelle Keil, took her own life. She would have graduated from Harrisonville High School this year and she wants her name announced during the ceremony.  The school district says that has not been their practice.

Keil says that isn’t true. She says the family of a former student reached out to her saying a student who died in a car crash was honored during her graduation in 1997. 

“They called her name, her family stepped up and got her diploma and they had a choir singing a song dedicated to her. So, I don’t see why it would be so different to have my sister's name called if they’ve done it before," Keil said.

Harrisonville High School’s principal suggested a remembrance chair with a gown draped over it to honor Gabirelle, including her name in the program and offered to order an honorary diploma.

The district released a statement saying they do all they can to ensure the feelings of everyone involved in the graduation ceremony are taken into account. 

"The Wildcat family has endured the loss of students over the years and our hearts go out to all impacted by those losses.  There are times when those losses take on greater significance to family and friends and we know that graduation is one of those times.  We do all we can to ensure the feelings of everyone involved in the graduation ceremony are taken into account.

We are aware of an online petition started by the sister of a Class of 2018 classmate who passed away last year.  Prior to the holidays, Harrisonville High School Principal Mark Wiegers met with the petitioner to discuss the graduation ceremony for the Class of 2018.  As has been the practice at HHS in the recent past and at Mr. Wiegers’ previous high school, he suggested a remembrance chair for the ceremony - an empty chair with a gown draped over it - to honor Gabi.  Mr. Wiegers also suggested the inclusion of Gabi’s name in the program, listed as “In Memory of Classmates Lost.”  He also offered to order an honorary diploma for the family.

It has not been the practice of Harrisonville High School to read the names of any students who pass away prior to graduation during the ceremony.  

We feel that the remembrance chair and program listing are appropriate ways to remember our students and to maintain the spirit of a graduation celebration."

Keli says she’ll accept those offers, but her fight isn’t over yet. 

“I mean, it hurts worse to see an empty chair and then just pass her name and not say but let’s leave an empty chair. That’s what I don’t understand. If you’re going to go to that length to leave all that then just say her name and honor, her she’s been at the school district for 11 years," Keil said.

Keil has written an appeal letter to the school board and hopes to address her concerns during a meeting next month. 

If you or someone you know is struggling, there is help. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. You can also text if that's more comfortable. You can also visit their website suicidepreventionlifeline.org to reach out.

Copyright 2018 KCTV (Meredith Corp.) All rights reserved.

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