Teen's suicide brings Cashmere community together

CASHMERE, Wash. -- Malinda Morelos says her 14-year-old son, Rafael, left home on a snowy Sunday night in January and committed suicide.

Rafa, as he was known to his friends and family, was well liked. He ran track, loved music and, most importantly, loved his friends.

"He would always have a smile on his face," said Rafa's friend, Samantha Granados. "He was always there for me, like when I needed someone to talk to, he was always there."

Rafa was also openly gay, and his mother believes he was bullied and harassed because of that. She said she never thought about it until after he died.

"His friends told me that he was pushed, he was shoved, he was called faggot, he was called a bunch of different names," Morelos said.

On Monday evening, more than 100 people showed up at Cashmere High School for a community meeting designed to help people explore the issues surrounding Rafa's death by offering different types of support.

"This is not just a school issue," said Cashmere Superintendent Glenn Johnson. "It's a school issue, it's a community issue, it's a parent issue, it's a business leader issue and right now we need to come together and learn and get better."

Like other school districts, Johnson says Cashmere has strict policies in place regarding harassment, and he said all students and staff members are aware of them.

And while some in the community blame the school for not doing enough, some of Rafa's closest friends believe it was up to the students to come forward and say something to school officials.

"Maybe if people spoke up more about people calling him names, they probably could've done more, but since hardly anybody talked to the teachers about being named called, they couldn't have have done anything," Granados said.

On Saturday, April 7, the Seattle Men's Chorus will hold a benefit concert in Rafael's honor, preceded by a half hour discussion on tolerance and understanding.