At second vigil, a community mourns, urges action

More than 200 gather to celebrate the life of 12-year-old Celeste Wills

rlurye@islandpacket.comMay 3, 2014 

More than 200 people gathered in front of a Beaufort tattoo shop about 8 p.m. Saturday, its porch wrapped by purple and blue ribbons and strings of lights.

A half hour later, that light began to spread.

Dale and Clarissa Wills held white candles to a flame lit for their daughter, Celeste -- a Robert Smalls Middle School sixth-grader who took her own life Wednesday. They walked through the silent crowd, sharing the flame until candles glowed in the hands of each classmate, parent and friend who filled the lawn outside their Beauty Marks shop.

Then the crowd lifted its candles to the sky as a way to shine a light on the bullying friends and family say led to the 12-year-old's depression and subsequent death.

"She carried a weight on her shoulders and I don't know how, but her smile covered that weight day after day," Dale Wills said. "Our beautiful child, why would she retaliate? Why would she say something back? That's not what she would do."

Clarissa Wills urged parents to be vigilant in questioning their children, following their activities online and taking responsibility for preventing acts of bullying -- all things she said she did with Celeste and her older sisters, Zoe and Raven.

"We thought we were asking every question and so many topics were so open with our children," Clarissa Wills said. "But apparently it wasn't enough, because she hid the pain so well."

Online, Celeste was open about her struggles, her family discovered after her death.

Under a pseudonym on the blog website Tumblr, she posted advice and information about suicide prevention, as well as quotes and images that told of her own conflicted feelings.

On April 18, she posted a simple message, "Hey you, don't give up, OK?"

On April 29, another, darker message read, "I have never been more sure about suicide."

Her death, ruled a suicide Friday, is under investigation by the Beaufort County Sheriff's Office.

Deputies are looking into whether acts of bullying occurred, but Sgt. Robin McIntosh and Gregory McCord, chief school services officer for the Beaufort County School District, declined to say more Friday.

Attempts to reach the Sheriff's Office and several school officials Saturday were unsuccessful.

At the vigil, family friend Dora Whited said she wants to see more action from parents and the district to prevent the "countless, relentless torture of children in Beaufort County."

Bullying was not mentioned at a vigil held at the school Thursday.

"I stand here with a resolute heart and an absolute determination not to sit idly by while our children are sacrificed on the alter of apathy," Whited said.

As she and other family friends and parents spoke, passing drivers paid their respects by blowing their horns and revving motorcycle engines.

Those gathered -- many wearing suicide prevention bracelets -- clutched their candles and small slips of paper printed with a prayer for Celeste.

The prayer read:

On this day and forever after,

Let us be aware of the source of being

Common to us and to all living things.

Let us fill our hearts with compassion

Towards ourselves and each other.

Let us pray they we forever cease to be

The cause of suffering to another.

With humility and awareness of the

Suffering inherent in this life,

Let us practice love and compassion in our hearts,

On Earth, and towards our fellow man.

Several classmates fanned their eyes with the slips, but the tears came anyway.

"While we can't mourn for them, we absolutely mourn with them," Whited said of the Wills family.

After a video of photos of Celeste, interspersed with positive messages from her blog, was played, several people released purple balloons.

"We're also here to celebrate Celeste's life," Whited said. "She lived, she breathed, she touched everyone she knew."

Follow reporter Rebecca Lurye on Twitter at twitter.com/IPBG_Rebecca.

Related content:

Death of Robert Smalls 6th-grader Wills ruled suicide, May 2, 2014

Robert Smalls 6th-grader dies, remembered at vigil, May 1, 2014

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