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After tragedy, Southern Boone marching band plays on

Sunday, September 15, 2013 | 6:00 a.m. CDT; updated 6:41 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, September 17, 2013
Members of the Southern Boone High School marching band wore suicide prevention armbands during their performance Friday night, part of their remembrance of fellow band member Jacob Meadows.

ASHLAND — The friends of Jacob Meadows knew this was something they needed to do.

Halftime approached Friday night during Southern Boone’s home football game, and the 30 members of the school’s marching band were ready now. Meadows, their friend and saxophonist, had taken his own life earlier in the week.

The week was behind them now, and they were ready to take the field.

But before they did, they stood in a circle and held hands. Their director, Andrew Marjamaa, stood inside of it, rotating to look at them all. He spoke slowly.

"I'd like you to take a moment to bow your heads," he told them. "And I want you take in the silence."

The game was going on, and there was the cheering from the bleachers. But really there was only this moment. And in this moment, there were only clasped hands and soft whimpers and tears.

"It's been a hard week," Marjamaa reminded them. He took a long pause. "A really hard week."

Tuesday morning had broken over their town and brought the news. Cameron McGeorge, a Southern Boone junior, awoke to talk of a shooting.

The early word was that it took place near Meadows' house. McGeorge, an only child, texted Meadows to make sure the only brother he'd ever known was all right.

"And he didn't respond," McGeorge said.

As he does any day, senior Adam Runde rose to his alarm clock. He was about to get in the shower Tuesday when his mother knocked on the door, telling him school was canceled because of a threat.

It was someone from school, he was learning. Someone in his senior class.

On TV, news channels were showing a picture of a house he knew.

"I was begging, praying," Runde said.

"No," he heard his mother crying, "not Jacob." Not the boy Runde had befriended in the school jazz band after the family moved to town three years ago. Not the one who came for the family's weekly Bible studies. Not the one they later watched become baptized.

Landon Bartel heard about a shooting when he woke that Tuesday morning, and he thought everything would be all right. Everything always was in this little town.

The night before, the friend Bartel played with in the school band since sixth grade was texting him links to silly YouTube videos.

"People were starting to say they thought it was Jacob Meadows," Bartel said, "and I couldn't believe it."

Drum major Rebeka Lortz, a senior and friend of Jacob's since fifth grade, awoke to a stream of texts from other members of the marching band.

"It was very shocking," she said. "I was trying to piece it together in my head along with trying to keep everyone together at the same time."

She was flipping through local news channels and scrolling through Twitter until the pieces formed.

Jacob Meadows was dead.

Authorities arrived to take him into custody early Tuesday morning for sending a text to a fellow student that said a "horrible disaster" would occur at school.

It was around 2 a.m. when Meadows shot himself. He was 17.

Later in the day, Lortz had the band over at her house. They made frozen pizzas. They shared stories of the one they came to know as "Jake the Great," the lanky and awkward one who had a way of making them all laugh even in the blaze and sweat of summer practices.

"I know he meant everything to us, and us the same to him," Lortz said. "I know high school isn't easy for anyone, and for someone like Jacob, it's especially tough, and I feel very confident in knowing that band was a very safe place for him."

They cried and offered one another tissues. They held each other.

And then, as hard as it seemed, they decided how they would honor him.

***

Hours before kickoff, already in the heavy white uniforms they would march in with the cape dangling at the shoulder, his friends came to Ashland Baptist Church. They filled two rows of pews that were marked as being reserved for family.

At the front of the church, Jacob Meadows' family spent two hours greeting lines of people that stretched out of the building.

Projector screens flashed with pictures of a child at first, a boy with a toothy smile in a pile of fall leaves, and then older, playing an acoustic guitar, and then older, making sand castles on a beach, and then older, playing with a cat, and then older, playing his saxophone, still a boy with a toothy smile.

It's amazing, those closest to him said, how "Jake the Great" could hear music, digest the notes and the rhythms, and then play the song back so mechanically right. When Marjamaa became his fifth-grade band director, the boy was playing Celine Dion's "My Heart Will Go On" over and over from the radio.

"Every time I think I'm better, that I've finally come to terms with things, I get hit again with emotion," Marjamaa said earlier in his office Friday. "When it's a surprise like this, it hits you harder."

Marjamaa was one who shared a eulogy at the memorial service. Another was Eddie Runde, Adam Runde's father, who welcomed Meadows to the family's home as if he were another part of it.

Runde mentioned the robin that Meadows rescued and cared for over the summer. He recalled a time at a party where Meadows came to him concerned over a group of kids pestering a small, helpless animal.

His talked about Meadows' dry sense of humor and how he laughed and made everybody else laugh. How he absorbed himself in his music.

"I believe his humor helped him relieve some of the day-to-day difficulties he might've encountered," Runde said. "But he himself said that when he was playing music, that's when he was at peace."

Meadows' shelter, many said, was in the band room at Southern Boone High School.

"Band is a special place for many of these students, and especially for students like Jacob," Marjamaa said in his eulogy. "He found a belonging in band, and the students really took him in."

When it was his turn behind the podium, McGeorge reflected on his three years of friendship with Meadows.

They spent many nights jamming, he said. McGeorge on the bass, Meadows on the guitar.

They jammed for the last time Monday night at Meadows' house.

"At times, when I was broken down and sad, he'd always be there to help," McGeorge said at the service.

Bartel told those gathered how he wished to have spent more time with Meadows outside of school.

"I didn't realize it until just recently, but I always felt like a bigger brother to him," he said.

"Now, I wish," he said, his voice faltering at the podium, "I wish I would've given the time he gave me and the effort towards our friendship that he gave me. He truly was the best person that I knew."

When the eulogies were through, much of the band left the church. Outside, some were on their knees sobbing. Others held each other. The final part in their friend's funeral was approaching, but so was halftime, and they were to meet back in the band room.

They grabbed their instruments from the band room and strapped them on. They helped adjust one another's chinstrap on the helmet so that the hat's feather was straight and proud.

In the band room, it was all customary, normal.

And then they were out by the field.

"I was in denial of it all happening. I was like that for days," McGeorge said. "But, you know, I don't know if after today I'm really in that stage anymore."

They formed the circle.

***

"I'd like you take a moment to bow your heads," Marjamaa started.

"It's been a hard week. A really hard week," Marjamaa continued in the center. "And you guys have been here for each other. And this is why I love band, why I love you guys."

He invited Meadows' fellow seniors to talk, and they did so around the circle, one by one.

They cried and said they loved each other. They said that what they were about to do would be difficult, but that they would do it together. They would do it for Jacob.

Once on the field, there would be a moment of silence. They would all put their helmets down and salute the gap left unfilled in the marching line.

They would be still on the field for a moment.

Then, they would make the music rise up.

They knew it was something they needed to do.

Supervising editor is Greg Bowers


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