JEFFERSON COUNTY, Mo. (KTVI) — A Missouri teen lost her battle to stage 4 rhabdomyosarcoma, a rare form of childhood cancer, three weeks before she was supposed to graduate the eighth grade.
The family of 14-year-old Kaitlyn Atrip said they were shocked the teen was not honored at Crystal City Junior High’s graduation ceremony on May 18 after her passing.
“Kaitlyn should have been there,” said Kaitlyn’s mom, Lindsey Patton. “I made a promise to her before she passed away that I wouldn’t let anyone forget her.”
The family attended the ceremony to support Kaitlyn’s cousin and friends, who also graduated. Patton said she did not hear her daughter’s name mentioned at all during the ceremony.
“I was expecting them to honor her with a moment of silence, a picture of her, a reserved seat, something in her honor, something to acknowledge the fact that she had been a student here for over seven years,” she said.
Patton said a counselor made yellow ribbons for students to wear, but the school did not acknowledge their meaning during the ceremony. She also said the school did not have a diploma for Kaitlyn. The family and her friends decided to honor Kaitlyn themselves, using chalk outside the school.
“We decided we would come up and honor her ourselves and write some chalk messages to her,” Patton said.
The messages read, “Congratulations, Katilyn. We’re proud of you. You did it.” Patton said the superintendent came to the school while they were writing the messages, and police were called.
“The superintendent came to the school and scolded us for not having permission to write with chalk the messages to Kaitlyn,” Patton said.
She said the next morning before a storm came, the school power-washed their messages off and took down the balloons they had set out for Kaitlyn.
“You can’t wash away her memory. You can make us wash off this chalk, but you can’t just wash her away like that,” Patton said.
On Friday, students stood in solidarity and wrote chalk messages to Kaitlyn outside the school, in the same spot family and friends had done the night before.
A student shared a video of the school superintendent saying, “You are insubordinate. We are worried about your safety. If you’re not going to go back in, then we have your names, and I’m going to call your parents. You’re going to go home. You’re going to be suspended, and we will have a meeting about this.”
A student can be heard saying their parent was nearby. The superintendent then said, “OK, take her home.”
When the student claimed the parent would not be complying either, the superintendent is then heard saying, “Well, that’s when the police will arrest you for trespassing. I suspend you, and you come back, you will be under trespassing.”
“I’m trying to be nice here about this,” the superintendent then said.
Katy Lewis, a local business owner, wanted to do something to let Kaitlyn’s family know the community cares.
“We had signs here, and our signs had pictures of Kate. And we had it say, ‘We will not forget you, Kate,'” said Lewis, the owner of Vivian James American Beauty, a salon where Kaitlyn was a customer.
“That’s not what our town is about,” Lewis said. “We will never let anyone go that way.”
She gathered local businesses who put up signs and balloons and let anyone write chalk messages to Kaitlyn outside their small businesses.
Now, the Patton family said they are fighting to make sure no other family feels this way.
“I don’t want anyone to go through that or fight policies, or whatever their reason was for leaving Kaitlyn out of the graduation,” Patton said.
Crystal City School Superintendent Matt Holdinghausen declined an interview Monday. He sent the following statement:
“Recently, one of our families in the community lost their child. Our students and staff have lost a friend and a caring individual who will never be forgotten. The loss of a child is always a tragedy and can never be measured and our thoughts and prayers are with the family. Our school community retains counselors on staff to be of assistance to any student that would like to talk and grieve. Our teachers and staff are also here to support all those that are hurting because of the loss of their friend. May our community be encouraged to support each other and the family during this time.”