Linden High School junior Josh Pacheco
had a heart for theater and an infectious smile, but above all else he cared for others, his family said.
“My son was very funny and exceptionally sensitive and loving to other people’s feelings,” said Pacheco’s mother, Lynnette Capehart.
Pacheco, 17, committed suicide Nov. 27. His parents believe bullying is to blame.
Pacheco was part of the Fenton-based Kidz Theatre Kompany, worked at Tim Hortons, loved his advanced placement politics class and called his four siblings his best friends, Capehart said.
Pacheco also was gay, which led to him being bullied both inside and outside of school, said his mother, Lynnette Capehart.
He told his mother he was gay just two months ago, but Capehart said she wasn't surprised and she said it made no difference to her. She loved her son just the same.
Pacheco was always smiling and entertaining friends and family -- and he loved a random mix of music from The Beatles to One Direction.
"A young man with an old soul," even as a child he was always comfortable talking with adults, especially about plays, history and politics, Capehart said.
Although he never got into sports -- "it just wasn't in him to be aggressive," said his mother -- he loved to go out on the boat, go tubing and swimming.
As the middle child, his siblings - Alicia, 20, Tiffani, 19, Grant, 14, and Haylee, 12 - were his best friends, Lynnette Capehart said.
Lynnette and stepfather Michael Capehart said they didn't know until recently that Pacheco was bullied.
Capehart said her first indication that there was a problem came after the homecoming dance on Oct. 6. She was out of town, so she called to see how the dance was. It was the only one he attended this fall.
Pacheco was upset and crying, but wouldn’t tell her why, Capehart said.
After his death, she found out from students that her son had been pushed into lockers and teased at school. It wasn’t surprising that he didn’t tell many people about it, Lynnette Capehart said, because Pacheco never wanted to make anyone else upset.
“He was having problems with bullying. He didn’t really want to tell us very much,” she said. “It was very disheartening to me.”
The weekend after Thanksgiving, Pacheco talked to his sisters, questioning life and his future -- comments that worried his parents. His mother talked to him that Sunday and on Monday, Nov. 26, set up an appointment for him to see a counselor on Wednesday -- even though he seemed back to his normal, "quirky" self.
Around lunch time on Nov. 27, Michael Capehart saw Josh's Facebook status, quoting a line from Bilbo Baggins, a character in the "Lord of the Rings" movies: "I regret to announce that this is the end. I'm going now, I bid you all a very fond farewell. Goodbye."
It immediately worried Michael Capehart. Pacheco was home sick that day, so Capehart called his neighbor to check on Pacheco. He was found unresponsive in his truck, which had been running in the closed-up garage.
He left a note in the truck: "I'm sorry I wasn't able to be strong enough."
After news of Pacheco’s death had spread around the school, Lynnette and Michael Capehart said they received calls from friends and parents saying Pacheco had been bullied.
“We had just lost one of the gentlest spirits God had ever created,” Lynnette Capehart said.
At the funeral, teachers had also mentioned that they believed he was having problems with bullying at school, they said. It upset Lynnette Capehart that she was never notified by the school of the problems Pacheco was facing.
Superintendent Ed Koledo said no bullying had ever been reported to school officials.
“We weren’t aware of any specifics. There’s been a lot of stories that have turned up over the weekend that we are looking into,” he said. “We are trying to put new programs into place, so (students) feel more comfortable (talking to administrators).”
Something that was already under discussion was a bullying hotline — which students can use to text bullying they witnessed or experienced. School officials accelerated plans for the Eagle Hotline, which can be reached at 810-373-2131 -- after Pacheco’s death
The district is also discussing bringing in speakers to talk about bullying and suicide. Administrators will also be talking with staff about what is considered bullying and what to do about it, Koledo said.
Just because there were not reports that Pacheco was being bullied doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist, Koledo said. But sometimes it goes under the radar, and the district is working hard to address bullying and make students more comfortable, he said.
“That’s another thing we are looking into. What type of issues (teachers) are taking about and why they aren’t saying anything. That’s a concern,” he said.
Communication is key, Koledo said. A few students have come forward to speak with school officials -- but some students also posted accusations on Facebook, not all of which were true, he said.
“The more communication we have, the better. More lies getting figured out. Communication is the key to unraveling the issues,” Koledo said.
Michael Capehart said he will be in constant communication with the school until some action is taken with students who were involved in the bullying. He said he has contacted an attorney to possibly create a better state law to prevent bullying in the future.
“After years of bullying, look what it can do to a life,” Michael Capehart said.
Lynnette and Michael Capehart say more than anything, they simply want the bullying to stop -- and that includes any bullying of students who others may think were involved with bullying Pacheco.
At least 400 people attended Pacheco’s funeral Saturday. Students and teachers from every school he attended -- including Redford and Fenton, which he attended before transferring to Linden in seventh grade -- were there.
And at the funeral, person after person, family and friends, spoke about Pacheco and how he made a difference in their lives. About 30 people spoke -- and many more wanted to speak but there wasn't time.
Linden High School students also have planned a vigil for 6 p.m. Wednesday at the Mill Pond gazebo to gather, talk about and remember Pacheco.