A large group of walkers from the Fenton area and beyond braved cold temperatures Sunday to join Lake Fenton High School’s anti-bullying organization, The Starfish Initiative, in honoring the memory of Josh Pacheco, a bullying victim who committed suicide.
Pacheco was 17 and a junior at Linden High School. He committed suicide on Nov. 27. His parents said bullying played a role in his death and said Pacheco was gay, which led to him being bullied both inside and outside of school, according to the Flint Journal.
Lake Fenton High School senior Matt Wilson, who began The Starfish Initiative, said he was bullied as a freshman and sophomore. Wilson decided to begin an anti-bullying group at his school because other districts have anti-bullying initiatives and he believed Lake Fenton High School needed one. Working with Principal Todd Reynolds, Wilson began The Starfish Initiative.
“It’s been growing very fast,” he said.
At the group’s first meeting, 17 people attended. Now there are 38 members. Students who’d like to participate can attend a meeting of The Starfish Initiative, from 2:30 to 3:30 p.m. on Tuesdays in Mrs. Campbell’s room.
“This is our first public event,” Wilson said, of the walk for Josh Pacheco. “I’m really excited about how many people came.”
Kristen Cody, a junior and a member of The Starfish Initiative, helped organize the walk.
“We thought this was a great way to kick off our group,” Cody said. “We want to have a big impact.”
Another anti-bullying group, The Bullycide Project, also attended in support of the cause. Adam Ezell, a senior at Fenton High School who knew Pacheco through their church, was one of the walkers.
“I think it’s really cool that everyone can come out and show that we aren’t going to stand for bullying anymore in this community,” Ezell said.
Elizabeth Thompson, a 2008 Fenton High School (FHS) graduate, also attended for Pacheco and anti-bullying.
“We’re just really trying to make sure that this doesn’t keep happening, that this doesn’t become a trend,” Thompson said.
The Bullycide Project travels to different schools to talk about bullying and suicide, she said.
Supporters for the walk on Sunday arrived from near and far. Trent Eaton, Rachel Eaton and Josh Wooland, students from Grand Blanc and members of The Bullycide Project, arrived with the Eatons’ mother, Chris Eaton.
Rachel Eaton held a banner of Kimberly Linczeski, a victim of bullying who took her own life.
In addition, Kevin and Tammy Epling, who began Matt’s Safe School Law in Michigan, attended the walk for Josh Pacheco on Sunday in Fenton. Their son, Matthew Epling, a freshman from East Lansing, committed suicide in 2002, 40 days after being bullied, the Eplings say on their website.
“I think it’s important to be here, mainly because it’s generated by students, “Kevin Epling said, of The Starfish Initiative’s walk. “Students will make the biggest change in anti-bullying.”