Abigail Leyes gave an emotional plea at a public memorial for her brother Sunday night, nine days after he killed himself in a classroom at their high school.
“My brother is dead because he was silent,” she said. “He didn’t tell us the truth.”
She urged anyone struggling or keeping something painful to themselves to reach out to those around them, to those they love and those who love them.
More than 400 people were at the public memorial for Zachary Leyes on Sunday night in the Bend High School auditorium. The crowd included more than 30 of his relatives, as well as his fellow students, Bend Police officers, Deschutes County Sheriff’s deputies and Bend Fire Department firefighters.
Zack, 17, killed himself Feb. 7 with a single shot from his hunting rifle in an American Sign Language classroom. Police have said Zack didn’t intend to hurt anyone else with the gun he brought onto campus. The suicide, just after noon — in a modular classroom — prompted the lockdown of Bend High for more than two hours on a snowy Friday. Many of the students that day contacted their parents via text message to check in while the campus was closed.
Abby happened to have turned off her phone that day and didn’t turn it on until after the lockdown was over. When she did she found she had a text from her older brother, she told the audience at the public memorial service.
It read: “I am sorry, but I am not coming home. I love you very much. Goodbye.”
Tears flowed around Bend High auditorium as Abby spoke about her brother. She said she had to speak about the brother she loved “so that he will be defined as who he is and not what he did.”
Since Zack’s death, his family has called for more awareness about teen suicide. Daniel and Leanna Leyes, his parents, have also set up a scholarship through the Central Oregon Community College Foundation for Bend High students looking to study applied arts, such as woodworking.
Along with Abby, Zack’s favorite teacher, his pastor and his principal spoke Sunday night at the memorial.
A talented woodworker, who had a part-time job as a cabinetmaker, Zack was known to help other students with projects.
He was patient and kind, and willing to tackle challenges, said Pat Welch, who teaches applied arts at Bend High.
“He solved problems wonderfully,” he said.
Zack’s family has attended Calvary Chapel for years, with the kids going to Sunday school there and attending camps, said Pastor Terry Webb of the church.
Zack was born on March 23, 1996. He was nearing his 18th birthday.
Webb led prayers during the public memorial service, as did Bend High Principal H.D. Weddel.
“This has been a tough week,” Weddel said at the start of the service. “There is no getting around (that).”
But he wanted to make the event less about death and more about life and love.
“Love for a family, love for a school and love for a community,” he said.
Before the memorial service started, Simple Minds’ “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” played as photos flashed on the auditorium’s screen of people around Bend, the state and beyond wearing blue and gold last Tuesday.
After Abby’s powerful speech, another slideshow played, this of Zack’s growth from a smiling toddler to a tall, slender young man with long hair — and the same smile. Many of the photos showed the siblings together, from campouts to trick-or-treating to just playing outside.
Another photo showed Zack as a youngster standing on the back of a firetruck next to his dad. Daniel Leyes, a paramedic with Bend Fire, is a “career firefighter,” said Bend Fire Chief Larry Langston, who also spoke at the memorial.
He said many of the police officers, deputies and firefighters who responded to the Bend High lockdown Feb. 7 were back at the school Sunday night. The first time they were there to protect and help the students. The second time they were there to support them.
He called Zack’s suicide “terribly sad” and talked about how the grief for a child is hard to bear.
“When a child dies we mourn the life that was and the life that would have been,” he said.
— Reporter: 541-617-7812, email@example.com