- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 5, 2016

JOPLIN, Mo. (AP) - A Joplin resident is organizing an effort to honor a boy who died in a 2011 tornado that killed more than 160 people.

The Kansas City Star (https://bit.ly/1USWYft ) reports that Joplin High School denied Tammy Niederhelman’s request to hold an empty seat for her son, Zachary Williams, at graduation. Williams was in seventh grade when the tornado hit Joplin. He would’ve graduated with the class of 2016.

Joplin resident Charlie Brown has encouraged people to decorate a chair and display it outside on May 22, the graduation day and the fifth anniversary of Zachary’s death. He’s calling the effort “Save One for Zach.”

Brown doesn’t know Niederhelman or her family, but said he was surprised she received pushback at her request.

“I thought, ‘Surely they’ll do the right thing,’” he said. “‘It’s just a chair.’”

Within two days after Brown posted on Facebook encouraging people to participate, more than 150 pledged to do so, including people as far as Michigan and Texas.

Niederhelman said she and her husband were touched when they heard about the support the effort received.

“It’s very emotional, but happy emotional,” Niederhelman said. “There are people who have never even seen Zach, or met me, and want to honor him the way he should be honored. The way any child should be honored.”

Joplin High School plans to honor Zachary, six other students and one district staff member who died in the storm by displaying their names on a large screen for the crowd of about 5,000.

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Information from: The Kansas City Star, https://www.kcstar.com

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