The student section at Lee’s Summit North High School’s stadium took on a purple tinge Saturday, which seemed odd considering that’s also the main color of the Blue Springs team on the other side of the field.
Purple is also a color that symbolizes suicide prevention.
The day before, that issue became all too real for Lee’s Summit North’s students and staff when Gemesha Thomas, a 17-year-old senior, shot herself in the school and later died at a Lee’s Summit hospital.
The football game was supposed to be played Friday night but was postponed until Saturday afternoon. Many other activities scheduled for the weekend were canceled, but Lee’s Summit North athletic director Mike McGurk felt it wise to move the football game back a day.
Giving the kids a chance to gather in an out-of-classroom event, he said, could help with the healing process.
“Their first thing back isn’t jumping back to school, it’s like coming to an event where it’s pretty enthusiastic,” McGurk said. “And they’re pretty resilient.”
McGurk said the North students took it upon themselves to help bring awareness to suicide prevention. Besides dressing in purple, students also released purple balloons at kickoff and observed a moment of silence with other fans before the game.
McGurk said he was impressed with how quickly North’s students have rallied around the cause.
“Let’s be honest, those kinds of events usually don’t happen in the school building,” McGurk said. “Different schools have dealt with teen suicides but not when it happens in the building. It kind of shocks your system like, is this building still safe?
“I think our kids have done a great job processing that and kind of figuring it out and starting the healing process.”
Still, the shock is being felt by many, and that includes several members of the football team who knew Thomas.
“It’s been pretty tough on everyone,” Lee’s Summit North running back John Eldridge said. “I had a class with her; she was a good friend. I didn’t expect that to happen.”
It was also a tough day on the field for the Broncos, who lost to Blue Springs 42-6.
Community support has swelled for the family of Thomas.
A GoFundMe page set up to help the family raised $18,500 in one day.
Gemesha, the page says, “was a beautiful soul inside and out that will be missed by many. She leaves behind a loving devoted mother (LaToya Thomas), two wonderful sisters and a big brother.”
Suicide prevention hotline
If you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts, help can be found by calling the National Suicide Pervention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.