COLUMBIA — Andrew Marjamaa knew Jacob Meadows for eight years, having been his band teacher since fifth grade. Like many Ashland residents, he has more questions than answers following Meadows' threatening text message and subsequent suicide.
"After something like this, you ask yourself if there was anything you could have done differently," Marjamaa said. "I'm in total shock. The students and the community are in total shock. We just didn't see this coming. There were no warning signs. He was such a good kid."
Jacob Meadows was an avid saxophone player and particularly loved jazz band. His teacher has shared a student-written piece that features Meadows in a saxophone solo starting at the 2:15 mark. Meadows wrote the first part of this piece, which follows a 12-bar blues progression.
Meadows shot himself after authorities arrived at his family's home to take him into custody for sending a threatening text message that said a "horrible disaster" would occur on Tuesday afternoon at Southern Boone High School. He was 17.
Marjamaa recounted how Meadows would show up in bare feet to marching band practice at 7 a.m., grab his saxophone and start playing. He said Meadows had a "different" personality and was a goofball, but was funny, fun and likeable. (His teacher shared a student-written piece that features Meadows in a saxophone solo at the 2:15 mark.)
"He was awkward, but he fit in with band. He was our kind of awkward," Marjamaa said. "He had a special place here. Band was his home. We were his family."
Dale Van Deven, principal of the Ashland high school where Meadows was a senior, described him as a likeable and friendly guy. He, too, is searching for answers — for his community, for his students, and for himself.
"No one is going to know what drove him to that decision," Van Deven said. "I was surprised to learn the identity of the person who sent the message. We were all surprised."
Van Deven said that students were talking to counselors and support staff made available to them as classes resumed, especially on Wednesday, the day after the shooting. He met with each grade to discuss the situation, assure the students they were safe, and inform them of the support available.
The news was especially hard for Marjamaa and his band students, who form a very close-knit community. On Tuesday while classes were canceled, a drum major contacted students and invited them over to her house. Marjamaa said he and slightly more than half of the 32 students in band showed up to grieve and cope.
"I was so proud of my kids," Marjamaa said. "It was beautiful. It was heart touching. There were moments when they comforted each other, where they hugged, sat and rubbed each other's back. The kids naturally knew how to take care of each other."
Ashland Police Chief Lyn Woolford confirmed Thursday that police made preliminary contact with Meadows at 11 p.m. Monday based on reasonable suspicion that he was the person who sent the threatening message. Authorities left shortly after.
Maj. Tom Reddin of the Boone County Sheriff's Department said authorities left because they needed to contact the school district to confirm that, as the victim, the district wanted to press charges. Police returned to Meadows' home at 1:45 a.m. Tuesday morning to take him into custody.
Reddin said that when Meadows answered the door he was wearing only shorts. Meadows was cooperative with authorities and showed no intent to harm himself or others. He asked to go to the laundry room so he could put on a shirt and shoes, which authorities allowed.
With his father and step-mother in the living room, Meadows walked into the kitchen. Unbeknownst to authorities, the family kept a loaded .22 caliber pistol in a bowl on top of the refrigerator because vermin were eating the plants in their backyard garden. Meadows took the gun, walked into the laundry room, and shot himself once in the chest.
Reddin said that officers have discretion on whether to handcuff or accompany a suspect throughout an arrest, but he stressed that Meadows was compliant and that authorities had no idea he was intending to harm himself or that there was a loaded weapon inside the home.
"Do officers wish they had put handcuffs on him or wish they had stuck to him like glue? You betcha," Reddin said. "But they didn't, and Mr. Meadows made a permanent decision."
Earlier reports indicated that Meadows may have been bullied while at school for his eccentric behavior, but Marjamaa said he didn't think bullying was a factor. He said he never saw instances of bullying in band class.
"I saw a happy kid. I saw a kid who loved to come to class. I saw a kid who had friends at every level," Marjamaa said.
Although Marjamaa said he only observed Meadows during class and couldn't speak to whether or not bullying occurred outside his class, he said his students wouldn't tolerate such behavior.
"I saw a tight-knit community where the band students wouldn't let that happen," Marjamaa said. "He was very cared for."
Friday will be a difficult day for people in Ashland. School will proceed as normal until classes let out at 3:20 p.m. Meadows' visitation begins at 4 p.m. and concludes with a memorial service at 6 p.m.
But the day will not be done for Marjamaa and the band. Friday is Ashland's first football game since the shooting, and, like any other home game, the band is planning to play.
"There's no words you can say to make it better." Marjamaa said. Of his students' desire to perform amid the tragedy?
"It's an amazing thing."
Despite Meadows' passing, Marjamaa's friend of eight years will always have a place in his heart.
"He's one of those kids you'll never forget," Marjamaa said. "Even if the tragedy had never happened you wouldn't forget him because he was so unique and special."
Supervising editor is Stephanie Ebbs.