A somber mood hung over the city this week as students, staff and parents remembered a student who jumped to his death Friday afternoon from a building on the La Cañada High School campus.
Campbell Forrest Taylor, 17, was a senior at the school. Friends described him as an ambitious and outspoken young man who channeled his creative energy into theater and the school newspaper, The Spartan.
“He was not afraid to take on controversial issues,” said Kevork Kurdoghlian, a former editor of The Spartan and 2012 graduate of La Cañada High. “He was extremely bold and extremely blunt.”
Kurdoghlian, 18, said his former classmate had a great work ethic and was eager to move up on the newspaper's editorial staff shortly after joining it.
After graduating this summer, Taylor had plans to go to school in Sacramento. He showed an interest in becoming an officer in the military reserves, Kurdoghlian said.
On Friday, around 3:55 p.m., he jumped from the third-floor walkway of the junior high building on campus. Coroner's officials deemed the death a suicide.
The incident left the community in shock. A choir concert and other events were canceled during the weekend. On Saturday night, hundreds of students, parents and teachers gathered for a candlelight vigil at the high school. Candy, flowers and a typewriter were placed in front of the school's sign in a temporary memorial.
On Monday, lockers on campus were covered with pink or white post-it notes that read, “you are loved.”
Students described the atmosphere as still and gloomy.
“Everyone was quiet, everyone was respectful,” said Shant Hairapetian, 17. “I think it was tragic for everyone.”
Some students wore black, he said, but “everyone expressed remorse in a different way.”
Mayor Steve Del Guercio asked the City Council and staff members for a moment of silence at the end of the Monday night meeting. Members of the La Cañada school board rose from their seats and bowed their heads in silence before beginning their scheduled meeting on Tuesday night.
School board President Scott Tracy commended Wendy Sinnette, superintendent of schools, for working quickly to offer counseling to the affected students and for providing a sense of normalcy on campus. He also thanked the community for its support.
“The pain can sometimes seem overpowering,” he said. “The organic outpouring of love and support from students and parents and staff and friends the past few days is a sign the healing has begun.”
Sinnette, wiping away tears, said the district was deeply affected.
“I don't think that our administrators will ever be the same,” she said.
Sinnette thanked the students for the “respectful” vigil and members of the community who offered support this week.
“Thank you,” she said. “Thank you for being La Cañada.”
La Cañada Teachers Assn. President Mandy Redfern also addressed the school district officials, thanking them for their support over the past week.
“All of you have shown strength when we needed it the most,” she said.
Sinnette said a security audit that was performed mainly in response to the shooting at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn. will be presented March 19 at a school board workshop.
“Our recent tragedy will impact the findings,” she said in an email.
More than a dozen students attended Tuesday's school board meeting. Kurdoghlian spoke for the group, telling the board that students want a physical space on campus to pay their respects to Campbell and to test out a project examined in “Before I Die,” a videotaped talk sponsored by the nonprofit TED, which calls its mission “ideas worth spreading.”
Members of The Spartan staff, including Campbell, had watched the video in the newsroom. A news story on the project appeared on The Spartan website Friday morning.
Kurdoghlian said they wanted to “create positivity” out of the tragedy and create a space where they would feel appreciated.
The project would involve using a large chalkboard or wall on campus for students to write what they wanted to achieve or do in their lifetime.
“My classmates need a meaningful outlet where they not only feel welcome, but also feel a sense of community,” Kurdoghlian said.
The school district should help students take on such a project, he said.
“As students, we cannot be expected to just go home and deal with it, or to speak to a counselor and move on with it,” he said. “We need each other.”
A private memorial for family and friends will take place Thursday.