Emotions were running high Thursday afternoon at Smith-Cotton High School, where a rally to address the issue of bullying was held in the parking lot.

Randy Kirby
Randy Kirby

The gathering was held following a funeral service at  First United Methodist Church Celebration Center for 16-year-old Riley Garrigus, an S-C sophomore who committed suicide April 8. She was active in basketball at the school.

Riley's father Ralph Garrigus shared his thoughts with the media gathered for the event:

“I don't want anyone else to go through what we went through. You should not have to bury your kids. I want all the support I can get. Some people ask me how I get my strength. I get my strength from my daughter, because I have to make her death mean something. And this is how I'm going to it,” Garrigus said.

When asked if the schools were doing enough to address the problem, Garrigus said no.

“It should not have come to this. We've got to do more. We have to do more training, get more support and at a younger age. It can't start when they think they're adults,” Garrigus said. “It has to start in the grade schools. We're going to make some changes.”

But what started out as a peaceful event digressed into a large crowd of sign-carrying individuals demanding action from Sedalia 200 officials in reference to the bullying.

Superintendent Brad Pollitt and S-C Principal Wade Norton listened to concerns shouted at them from concerned parents, students and friends of Riley. Norton was later led away from the crowd in the parking lot of the school, and Pollitt stayed to listen to those addressing their concerns to him.

Law enforcement on the scene later called for backup as the crowd grew bigger and more contentious. A line of officers was formed to prevent anyone from moving further south from that point on the campus.

On Monday April 10, Smith-Cotton High School Principal Wade Norton met separately with each grade level in the school to discuss suicide and other student concerns. He explained that in recent months, the district and its crisis team have implemented professional development for staff members to recognize students in crisis; they also have been pursuing a credentialed, appropriate suicide prevention program that would connect positively with students, according to the District's Facebook post.

The post went on to explain that a 'Signs of Suicide' program will be implemented as soon as possible, with teachers, staff members and a group of student leaders receiving training within the next few months. The program will be fully implemented by the start of the 2017-18 school year.

Another initiative that began earlier this month is Link Crew, which will team upperclassmen with incoming freshmen to provide the freshmen with a stronger connection to the school, activity groups and support options, it was noted.

Principal Norton also reminded students that there are bullying report forms in the counseling office and that anyone can submit an anonymous tip through the Tip Line at sedalia200.org or through District 200's smartphone application.

According to the post, students had the opportunity to ask questions or make comments about their perception of the school's and district's efforts in these areas. Norton then pleaded with students to let teachers and staff know about issues so they can take appropriate action and get students the help they need.

Also on Monday, the district issued a statement on Garrigus. In part, it read “The entire Sedalia 200 community extends our sincere condolences to her family and friends. Grieving students and staff members who need to speak with a counselor may contact S-C High Principal Wade Norton at nortonw@sedalia200.org.”

Four S-C students have died over the past 16 months, it was reported, and three of the deaths were attributed to suicide.

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