The family of a teenager who died by suicide in 2016 says her northwest Missouri school district is refusing their requests to read her name at this spring's graduation ceremony, even though more than 20,000 people have signed a petition supporting the effort.
Relatives of Gabi Keil, who died when she was a junior at Harrisonville High School, have written to the district's board of education and met with principal Mark Wiegers and Superintendent Frank Dahman to try to persuade them to read Gabi's name. Her sister, Jennifer Keil, said she was told reading Gabi's name would be too upsetting.
"She (Gabi) had been with the district for 11 years," said Keil, 34. "Why can't they recognize her?"
The family's petition has been signed by more than 23,000 people, more than twice the size of Harrisonville's population, The Kansas City Star reported .
The district has said it will drape a chair with a gown in Gabi's honor and list her name in the graduation program and officials believe that is a proper honor that maintains the spirit of the ceremony, district spokeswoman Jill Filer told The Star.
The Board of Education wrote this month in response to a letter from Keil that the chair and name in the program are consistent with how "the district has handled similar situations in the past."
Filer said, for example, that an empty chair was once used to recognize a homicide victim from the school. During that 2014 ceremony, the school also held a moment of silence and students placed dozens of white roses on the empty chair.
The issue might arise in the future because Gabi was one of three students who died during the 2016-17 school year.
Saylor Johnson died in a house fire. She would have graduated in 2019. Corey Turner, who would have graduated in 2020, died after being struck by a swerving vehicle a few months before Gabi's death.
Relatives of all three students who died said they want to hear the students' names at their respective graduations.
"A name to us is life. That shows that our loved one did live," said Erika Chaney, Saylor's mother. "Just to hear someone say their names — that acknowledgment means the most to us as survivors."
Jeffrey Turner, Corey's father, said his son's death doesn't change the fact that Corey was a member of the 2020 class.
Hearing the students' names at graduation "would mean something to us and it would mean something to (the Keil family)," Turner said.
Keil said she was hurt by the school board's decision but was moved by the thousands of people offering support through the petition.
"If she (Gabi) could only see how many people care for her now," she said.
Hearing her sister's name would help with the healing process, Keil added, and "calling her name could potentially save another person sitting in the audience who's thinking, 'Nobody cares about me.' "