by Dustin Newman
In the aftermath of the highly unexpected, tragic suicide of Jayce Tippit, the El Diamante community, and its friends, have pulled together and formed a tight-knit student body family.
Tippit, a junior at El Diamante High School, would have turned 17 on September 4th. This year was his first on varsity football; he was scheduled to play as reserve defensive lineman. According to Mark Rogers, El Diamante football coach, “football was [Tippit’s] No. 1 thing” and “he was a kid who lived and breathed football.”
With the initial phone call to the Visalia Police Department being placed around 7:14 PM and news on social media breaking out around 8:00 PM, tweets expressing both shock and condolences spread quickly. Starting at 8:14 PM, the hashtag “JT15” was being used in conjunction with the green heart emoji on Twitter to show support and remembrance for Tippit’s family and friends. The sympathy was felt, according to Tippit’s mother, Mary Beth Tippit, who thanked “Miner Nation for your outpouring love and comfort.” Also through Twitter, students from every nearby school were encouraged to wear green the following day to remember the passed Miner.
There were accusations that Tippit committed suicide due to intense bullying. However, Mary Beth Tippit put the finger-pointing to rest with a Facebook post stating that her son “did not take his Life [sic] because he was bullied. Please please stop the rumors that Jayce was bullied… He was not bullied.”
The following morning, August 26, was undeniably a “very somber and sad” atmosphere, as El Diamante Principal Angela Sanchez described it. Within seconds of walking onto campus, one could see the many deep embraces throughout the halls and hear the cries of those personally affected. However, more striking than the sounds of sadness was the eerie silence of the usually bustling, lively campus. Students walked or stood around not knowing how they could carry on with their usual everyday talk. By 8:02 AM, the El Diamante administration had decided to officially postpone the scheduled Club Rush until the following Wednesday, September 2nd. Later, Club Rush was again moved to September 1st, to accommodate the funeral.
ASB, the student government, had put up a paper jersey decorated with the number “42” and Tippit’s name on the gym in the morning. Students were encouraged to sign the poster and write their memories or sympathies as well. By the end of the day, the poster was filled with student signatures.
Also on August 26, Mathew DeLeon Kirven, El Diamante senior and football player, held a lunchtime prayer to “honor him in the way he would [have liked] us to.” The turnout was high, says Kirven, and “made El Diamante a better place.” The prayer was in a long line of acts that showed “how El Diamante is a really big family and… did very well coming together in the time that we needed each other.”
In many ways, El Diamante’s reaction to Tippit’s death mirrored that of Redwood’s reaction to the death of Garrett Bragg, who died in a car crash exactly one year before Tippit’s death, on August 25, 2014. Both El Diamante and Redwood wore school colors, signed a poster of a jersey during lunchtime, and came together as a school, whether student or staff, to mourn and make it through the grieving process.
There was a football match between El Diamante and Tulare Union on August 27. With a score of 14:41 in favor of Tulare Union, El Diamante lost the game. However, the students insisted that it was not the victory that mattered, but the idea of playing for their lost teammate. This could not be seen any better than in the accompanying social media hashtag “everythingwedowedofor42” (everything we do, we do for 42). Besides football, the water polo and volleyball teams also expressed their sympathies.
Condolences were expressed from other schools in Tulare County. The Tulare Union Cheerleading Team, for example, sent a bouquet of white roses to El Diamante administration.
On August 26, a crowd-funded campaign to fundraise for Tippit’s funeral was started through the website gofundme.com. Within two days, over 200 donors, many of them friends, but also a significant number of anonymous donors, had raised nearly $10,000 for the funeral. Furthering the solidarity of a heartbroken community, friends and friends of the family left messages alongside their donations.
A candlelit vigil, which was planned by El Diamante senior Bernie Lawrence, was held on August 28 on the varsity football field. It started at 7:30 PM with the release of 30 white doves into the sky. After, the football team, Tippit’s friends and family, and anyone that had a story to share spoke at the vigil. A prayer was held to remember Tippit and thank God for the support of the student body. The El Diamante Chamber Choir performed a touching, yet impressive performance amid the candle lights around 8:30 PM to commemorate the event.
Before the vigil’s start, Tippit’s mother had this to say:
“I want to thank you guys for coming. For your phone calls and your text messages, from people that we don’t even know. The outpour of community that has helped us has been amazing… We just want to say thank you… And if you do anything, make a change. Make a change however you can. We just want to thank you for coming out and being a part of this and supporting this because it means so so so much to us.”
In reference to the many messages and acts of support, she said that “wherever it is, we see it, we hear it, and we feel it and it means everything to have this kind of support.”
According to Nolan Montgomery, El Diamante junior and one of Tippit’s teammates, “El Diamante has come together as one. You know, one person means a lot and Jayce was the kind of kid that hung out with everybody and he has really brought the whole school together.”
Bernie Lawrence expressed similar sentiments, saying that “it sucks to have a tragedy like this have to bring everyone together, but it touches my heart to see everyone start to come together.” He also believed that “we’re all a family and everyone needs to learn that everyone matters in this world and everyone has a place in this world and no one should ever have to feel alone or have any insecurities.”
Gage Benevedes, El Diamante senior and one of Tippit’s teammates, said that “as sad as it is, after the rain there are always rainbows. I feel like as tragic as it is, Jayce is up there in God’s arms and he’s getting the warmth and the loving embrace that he truly, truly deserves. He was such a good kid.” Remembering Tippit, Benevedes said that Tippit “always looked up to people too… He always looked up to me and, come to realize it, he’s really the person that I look up to.”
When asked for a statement, Tippit’s mother said that “we are so overwhelmed with the generosity and the love that [the student body] has given us. The football boys have just been amazing. That’s what we want to say.”
A message to our readers:
If you ever need help or are feeling suicidal or depressed, please remember that your El Diamante community is always here for you and will try its absolute best to create a loving, safe atmosphere. The number for the 24/7 National Suicide Prevention Hotline is (800) 273-8255. This information and more can be found on the back of every El Diamante student ID card. Please remember that you are loved and there is always an alternative to taking your life. Please remember that asking for help is encouraged. Please remember that you matter.