On Tuesday morning, the mood was somber as Principal Todd Tulgestke informed the student body of the passing of West Ottawa freshman Kayla Atsaphanthong. As students held back tears, the school paid tribute to a dear friend through a moment of silence.
“As we listened to Mr. Tulgestke’s heartfelt words about Kayla, a somber silence was broken periodically by grief-stricken students’ hushed weeping. The silence continued as we, teacher and students alike, confronted our disbelief and sadness. This was the most challenging moment in my teaching career. I talked about missing my former student that I saw on a daily basis and shared with the students how much I value them. Given many options of how to proceed, the silence continued, understandably so,” Instructor Brian Hackert said.
Although no one had the words to express how they were feeling, the support was obvious through the bright pink the students wore in remembrance.
Kayla passed away on Monday, March 19. She was a freshman at West Ottawa, and was involved in band, color guard, and tae kwon do.
Jr. Madelynn Tippet was in color guard with Kayla. “She was one of those really happy girls; she always made sure everyone was doing okay. She would come up to you and ask how your day was, how you’re doing, if there’s anything she can help with, and she was just one of those happy presences. You’d look across the field and you would see her dancing and she’d have the short hair that’d fly everywhere, and we’d walk into a room, or look over at her and she’s doing something crazy, and she’d freeze and just kind of watch you for a minute, and then just continue on like nothing happened. It was just one of those times that you miss, and I miss seeing her over there.”
“She was always the one that was asking everyone how they were. In the hallway, we would stop, and we would run and give each other hugs, and she was my buddy,” said Jr. Abigail Lee.
“She was the most amazing person I’d ever met. She had a kind, loving, and spirited, soul. She was the kind of person who would literally do anything to cheer a friend up. She cared about other people so much. It’s who she was. If you were feeling down and needed a pick me up, she’d make you laugh and smile and forget about your problems. She was a real friend,” said Soph. Kristal Maung.
On Friday, March 23, a visitation was held at Langeland-Sterenberg Funeral Home from 1-3, and 5-8 pm. The funeral was at 1:30 Saturday in the same location.