GREENWOOD VILLAGE, Colo. — Suicide is a painful topic that is affecting a growing number of families. Last February, Cherry Creek High School freshman Jack Padilla took his own life after he was bullied.
Family and friends gathered Sunday at Village Greens Park to honor the 15-year-old and raise awareness about mental health and suicide.
"This is a club none of us wanted to join," said Jack's father, Rick. "It's a wound that will never close. Every day, I tell my other son and my wife, we get one centimeter closer to acceptance. And that is very healing for us."
Padilla said Jack was a good, compassionate and loving child.
"We wanted to gather with his friends to celebrate his life and to play some songs that he liked," he said.
Participants walked around the park, many of them with their dogs, just like Jack did at one time.
After the walk, they shared stories.
Lacrosse coach Jeff Rosendahl said Jack was one of the best goalies in his age group.
"He was the heartbeat for what we did on the field," he said. "He was the person who cheered us on, the one who got us pumped up."
He said he remembered seeing Jack show up for a game one day, wearing a go-pro camera on his helmet.
"I was like, 'What are you doing?' Jack was like, 'I want to see what this looks like,'" Rosendahl said.
A friend of Jack's shared a list of memories as told by some of his classmates.
One wrote that her favorite memory "was when it was pouring one day and he gave me his sweatshirts, so I could stay dry and my computer wouldn't get ruined. He always gave things to me so I would be taken care of, even if he wasn't."
Jack's brother, John, remembered playing baseball when his brother was quite small.
"He got hit with a bat and began sobbing," John said. "I scooped him up and carried inside. We had these ottomans in our living room, and he was so small that he fit inside an ottoman, so I put him down inside. I had to give him 'emergency medicine,' so I went and got him a juice box or Capri Sun, or whatever it was, and had to pretend to do heart compressions and basically just gave him hugs."
The older brother said a few moments later, Jack was ready to go back outside and play.
Jack's family has started a GoFundMe account called, Jack Strong-Mental Health/Teen Suicide Prevention.
Funds will go towards the creation and maintenance of a nonprofit organization that will provide a support net of peers and will raise awareness for teen mental health through the advocacy of professional athletes, speakers and counselors.
"We don't want another Jack — we don't want another child to experience this," Padilla said.
At the end of the event, four white doves were released into the sky, near a tree that was dedicated to Jack.
Family members said they hope that the tree grows tall and lives a long, long life — a steady reminder of Jack.