Hundreds of people gathered for a candlelight vigil outside Jamey Rodemeyer's high school Sunday, a week after the Williamsville North freshman committed suicide following bullying by classmates because they thought he was gay.
Many wore purple to show solidarity with the anti-bullying cause. Some wrote in chalk on the sidewalks leading to the very doors Jamey used to enter, with messages such as "Make a law for Jamey" and "It's OK to be gay" and "I hope heaven is as beautiful as you are." Signs saying "NOH8" -- No Hate -- and some with a portrait of Jamey lined the roads.
A group of Jamey's closest friends and family spoke, including his sister, Alyssa Rodemeyer, 16, who was emotional over the outpouring of support at the vigil, one of two held Sunday evening.
"I wish he had known that this many people cared about him before he left," she said. "But it's up to us to make a change because of this."
Many speakers used the "Paws Up" phrase from Lady Gaga's song "Born This Way" -- Jamey was a huge fan of Gaga's music and her lyrics have become somewhat of an anthem for the anti-bullying movement.
"He taught us that we should love everyone equally, and I know he is looking down on us from heaven right now, and his message is loud is clear: A simple smile, a warm embrace or a friendly word can make a difference in someone's life," said Stephen Spoth, a friend of Jamey's. "From this moment forward, we should make it our duty to continue Jamey's message of compassion to others."
That was the overriding message: Jamey's memory can be used to spread good.
"The truth is that now having seen and known Jamey's life and death, we know that if there is to be no hate, and if the bullying is to stop, that we can't fight it with muscle or with mind games," said the Rev. Jerome E. Kopec of SS. Peter & Paul Church in Williamsville. "We have to fight it with our hearts."
Petitions were being circulated calling on the school district to create a new policy against bullying using input from students, teachers, parents, health care professionals and law enforcement officials.
Susan Sharp, a parent of two Williamsville North students and one of the chief organizers of the vigil, said the love and compassion shown by students and parents will continue to do good. "These kids aren't going to let that energy die," she said. "The parents aren't going to let it die. We don't want this to happen to anybody else."
To close the evening, friends, parents and teachers lit 14 sky lanterns -- one for each year of Jamey's life -- and released them to the sky, floating west with the wind.
Later Sunday evening, a second vigil was held in Buffalo's Allentown section. A group of mourners gathered on Allen Street and walked four abreast with candles down Main Street to Club Marcella, 622 Main St.
Some had come in by bus from the University at Buffalo. Some had bused in from Ohio. They wore lots of purple. Some wore Lady Gaga "Born This Way" T-shirts. Other shirts read "Some Kids Are Gay. That's OK" and "It Gets Better."
"It's beautiful, isn't it?," Neal Horvatits, events director for Club Marcella and an organizer of the Buffalo vigil, said as he watched marchers stream in to the large patio behind the club.
Speakers in a brief program included Miguel Gorman of the Purple Door Project, who described how bullying had left him "emotionally drained to the point where I couldn't even cry"; gay marriage activist Kitty Lambert Rudd, who urged phone calls to schools to encourage them to implement the Dignity for All Students Act; Mayor Byron W. Brown, who declared, "Bullying must end right here"; and State Sen. Mark J. Grisanti, R-Buffalo, who said, "I'm here because what happened to Jamey shouldn't happen to anybody. Enough is enough."
The Amherst police Special Victims Unit is fielding telephone and Facebook tips, but no charges appear imminent.
"We are looking specifically for witnesses, for any students or parents or anyone else who might have any information about who the bullies are and what they said or posted," Capt. Stephen J. McGonagle said.
Anyone with helpful information may call Detective Lt. Joseph A. LaCorte at 689-1393 or the Amherst police confidential tip line at 689-1390 or post tips on the Amherst Police Department's Facebook page.
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