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Emotions in suicide continue to run raw; Massive response to Jamey's death

Jamey Rodemeyer's death has unleashed a torrent of raw emotion.

It comes from major figures in the world of entertainment, media and politics, who never heard of the 14-year-old Williamsville North freshman, and relatives, teachers and students who saw him every day. His suicide this week, following what he called more than a year of "constant" bullying related to the fact that he identified as bisexual, seems to touch a new nerve every day.

That continued at a Williamsville North homecoming event Thursday night. Amherst Police Chief John Askey said a high school parent called to report malicious words being hurled at Jamey's older sister, who is a student at the high school and attended the outdoor function.

In the original complaint, a parent told police she understood that some students made harassing statements "suggesting that they're glad that Jamey's dead."

"What we're doing right now is trying to determine what was said," Askey said, who added that no threats or violence occurred at the event. "We have detectives interviewing people as we speak."

Ordinarily, the chief said this kind of exchange wouldn't draw police scrutiny. But given the emotions felt by many in this quiet suburb, more police attention seemed necessary.

Every major news network in North America and most major newspapers worldwide have taken note of Jamey's suicide. Jamey's idol, Lady Gaga, has called on President Obama and the federal government to take action. Singer Ricky Martin has done the same, going as far as to change his picture on Twitter to a photo of Jamey.

"I am meeting with our President," Gaga posted on Twitter this week, using the hashtag "#MakeALawForJamey." "I will not stop fighting. This must end. Our generation has the power to end it."

Not since the death of Tyler Clementi, the Rutgers University freshman who jumped off the George Washington Bridge in 2010, has a single case of suicide garnered so much attention.

"It's just such a tragedy," said John Carlino, a German teacher at Kenmore West who advises that school's Gay-Straight Alliance. "People are becoming more and more aware of this as an issue and finally taking a stand. And they're speaking more openly about it."

Both nationally and locally, many have turned to the Internet as a way of dealing with their grief and frustration over Jamey's death. One Facebook group, the Anti-Bullying Movement, encourages users to post photos of themselves with "NOH8," or "no hate" written across their hands.

Danielle Mazziotti, a 15-year-old sophomore at Clarence High School, helped begin an online petition that has been signed by nearly 2,000 people, calling on the U.S. Senate to enact federal laws against bullying.

"A lot of people think that it's ridiculous, that it won't do anything," Mazziotti said. "But if this law stops one bully, or if it makes just on person feel safe, then it's all worth it."

Two vigils have been planned for Sunday. One, organized by Jamey's close friends, will start at 7 p.m. in the parking lot of Williamsville North. Fourteen sky lanterns will be released into the air, one to celebrate each year of Jamey's life.

The other will be a candlelight vigil in Buffalo starting at 8 p.m. on Allen Street between Franklin and Main. Those in attendance will march with candles to Club Marcella, 622 Main St.

At Williamsville North, homecoming celebrations went on as planned, including a Friday pep rally -- but district spokeswoman Rita Wolff said a garden to remember Jamey is being planned for the high school's campus. At Williamsville East, an anti-bullying club started in 2010 called "Stand Up. Stand Out." has received increased attention from concerned students.

At Kenmore West, Carlino said hundreds of students wore purple on Friday as part of an organized effort to show solidarity against bullying. Teachers there, and undoubtedly across Western New York, have had frequent discussions in and out of class about the tragedy.

All across the board, people seem to be asking the same question: How did this happen, and how can it be kept from happening again?

Susan Sharp is a parent of two from Williamsville North who is helping to organize Sunday's vigil there. Both her daughters were close friends with Jamey, and she said she wants the Williamsville School District to create a team of teachers, parents, students, police officers and health care professionals to address bullying in their schools.

"Bullying is not an easy problem to deal with," Sharp said. "We're never going to solve the problem completely, but if everyone is proactive, we can make a dent in it."

Williamsville North Principal Petrina Neureuter -- who has yet to give a public interview since Jamey's death -- was not available Friday to speak with members of the media. But East Principal Scott Taylor said his school and the district as a whole are doing their best "to be very proactive, to empower students."

And a new district initiative going into effect this year will offer free help to any student who may be having thoughts of suicide, said Mike Coon, a counselor at Williamsville East.

Despite the positive response, Jamey's death remains an emotional subject.

"To imagine what kind of mind frame he was in when this happened -- that's just awful to think about," said Adam Kluge, 11, of North Tonawanda, who posted a video to YouTube this week featuring a song he wrote after being bullied as a young child.

Jamey's funeral service is set for 9:30 a.m. today in SS. Peter and Paul Catholic Church, 5480 Main St., Williamsville.

News Staff Reporter Sandra Tan contributed to this report.