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Amid sea of light and sorrow, friends remember Cody Hendren

Sunday, April 6, 2014 | 6:00 a.m. CDT; updated 7:00 a.m. CDT, Monday, April 7, 2014
Friends and family gather at Peace Park on Saturday for a memorial service to remember Cody Hendren, who was 14 when he killed himself last month.

COLUMBIA — Hands shuddered as they gripped slender, white candles. Friends, recognizing one another's faces in the candlelight, embraced as they shared silent tears. 

Then quiet. A dark space illuminated by more than 60 candles as they waited. One person counted to three, and each person extinguished a flame.

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Each candle represented someone whose life Cody Hendren had touched. Cody killed himself at his home in Columbia on March 15. In the sea of light and tears, Cody's friends and family stood in silence under the stars Saturday in Peace Park to remember the 14 years and 238 days Cody was alive. 

A clear night bathed in starlight was a befitting way to remember the quiet yet funny teenage boy, his friends said.

"He would say, 'Let's go outside and watch the stars naked,' " his friend Sabrina Westcott said. "He'd say it all the time because he knew it would make us laugh."

Cody played viola in the Battle High School orchestra, enjoyed classical music, and played chess and video games with enthusiasm. He was a boy of varied interests, but one word kept coming up as people struggled to encapsulate Cody — brilliant. 

"He was brilliant," his mother Beth Hendren said. "He wanted to be salutatorian, not valedictorian, because he didn't want to give the speech." He was always a bit shy, she said.

His family said that Cody was, like most teenagers, timid when you first met him but willing to open up the more he got to know you.

"Brilliant is the biggest word (to describe Cody)," his father, Jeremy Hendren, said. "He was really fun to hang out with, but once he got to know you he was a clown."

Friends said they wouldn't forget his passion for amassing arcane bits of knowledge. He was always a trivia buff.

Tiffany McMichael, a family friend, didn't know the correct name for an ellipsis until the 14-year-old told her.

"He was always into conspiracies and random things," Westcott said. "He was a really great friend."

At Saturday's memorial, Cody's friends and family held candles and wore memorial T-shirts and suicide prevention ribbons as they gathered to share their stories and memories of Cody.

Tyler Froeschner, 15, said that although his stepbrother was a smaller boy, he was never afraid to be himself.

"He didn't care what others thought," he said. "Cody was Cody, and that was that."

Although Cody died March 15, friends wanted to make sure they held a memorial after their spring break so as many people as possible could attend.

"The kids chose the venue, and we talked to them about the time, and they picked the night," family friend Rebecca Ballew said.

As those friends began lighting candles, a small child began singing "Happy Birthday," still too young to realize that candles are not just for birthdays — that they can represent sorrow instead of joy, can be used to memorialize as well as celebrate.

Beth Hendren smiled as she watched the young boy sing.

Then she spoke. Before they blew out the candles, she asked the people who loved her son to look for the signs of suicide in those around them and to never keep them secret.

Above all, she asked that people not forget her son Cody.

"Remember his quirks. Remember his smart-aleck lines. And remember his blue eyes."

Supervising editor is Edward Hart.


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