- Associated Press - Friday, December 2, 2016

LONGVIEW, Texas (AP) - Kenny Jackson remembers the first time he saw the boy with the Superman lunchbox sitting alone at the cafeteria table in fifth grade.

The Longview News-Journal (https://bit.ly/2h2JDnc ) reports it wasn’t right for him to have to eat alone, Jackson recalled thinking, while he ate with his friends.

So in classes, Jackson started talking to Josh Warren, who quickly became one of his best friends. Like brothers, the two often could be found hanging out together, with each of their families becoming an extended family to the other.

Today, Jackson says he can’t forget Warren’s last words before his death a year ago. They came from the Bible: “But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.”

Those words, from the book of Isaiah, will be placed on a grave marker being designed by Jackson in his engineering and problem-solving class at Pine Tree High School as a way to commemorate the life of his best friend.

“It was hard. It was just hard,” Jackson said of losing Warren last year.

It wasn’t just hard for him, he said. It was hard for his whole class, the football team Warren and Jackson played for - and for the whole school.

“Very few of us had experienced losing someone that close to us. He was the person I talked to the most. He was there for me a lot … ” Jackson said as his voice trailed off, choked up at recalling the memory of his friend.

Warren died July 1, 2015, after falling ill less than 24 hours after participating in a strength and conditioning workout at Pine Tree High School. It later was determined he died of exertional sickling due to prolonged physical activity complicating sickle cell trait.

Sickle cell trait is a hereditary condition that causes some red blood cells, which normally are round or oval, to change into a crescent shape, or to “sickle,” according to information from the Korey Stringer Institute, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the prevention of sudden death in sports. During intense exertion, sickling causes a logjam of red blood cells in the blood vessels, leading to decreased blood flow and explosive muscle breakdown.

After Warren’s death, Jackson said he talked to one of his and Warren’s teachers, Allen Morris, about how he could pay tribute to his friend. Morris teaches Jackson’s engineering and problem-solving class as well as other courses at Pine Tree that use 3-D printers.

Morris showed Jackson something he had designed, using a 3-D printer to create a model. It was a grave marker Morris said might one day be placed on his own grave.

Through a computer program, students can design a model of something that, when printed with a 3-D printer, is multi-dimensional. Such a model can be cast in marine-grade aluminum, which Morris said can be longer lasting than stone.

“It will be there for years to come,” he said.

After seeing his teacher’s grave marker model, Jackson decided to make it a design project for his class, one that also would pay tribute to his friend.

Morris has a bittersweet outlook on his student’s project.

“I’m saddened that this has happened,” he said. “I would rather that Josh still be here and that he come to see mine on my grave after I’m gone, but I’m pleased that a student of mine wanted to honor another former student of mine.”

Jackson said he talked with a lot of people about how they envisioned Warren’s grave marker. He talked to Warren’s parents, who, he said, put their trust in him for the design.

Because Warren’s last words were from the Bible and because the Bible was so important to his friend, Jackson said he got the idea to make the grave marker look like a book open to its center. He chose the quote from the book of Isaiah, also Warren’s last words, for the inscription.

Meanwhile, Pine Tree junior Liliana Martinez is working to write a paragraph about Warren, one that encapsulates ideas and memories many of Warren’s closest friends have about him. The paragraph will be inscribed on the back of the grave marker (the side that will lay facing the earth). Morris said because the marker will be made of marine-grade aluminum it will look like other markers at a cemetery, but those who know about it will know it is lightweight enough to lift and turn over to read the paragraph that lies beneath.

Martinez said she’s gathering a committee of people who knew Warren and talking to them about him in preparing to compose the paragraph.

“When he passed, it hurt our school. Josh was well known, and he was a great kid,” Martinez said. “But he’s still remembered. This is a way to show that we didn’t forget about him.”

Once it is ready to be cast, Morris said the school would have a fundraiser (which likely will start in January) to fund the marker. Any person - Pine Tree student or community members - is invited to donate $1 to the cause, but no more than $1.

That’s because, Morris said, every person should feel like they contributed equally to the project. If a person wants to donate more than $1, he can, but every other dollar donated has to be given in someone else’s name.

Any money left over will be used to create a scholarship in Warren’s name, which will be given to a graduating senior. The student who receives the scholarship will be determined by a committee, Morris said.

To donate or for more information about donating, contact Morris by email at [email protected] .


Information from: Longview News-Journal, https://www.news-journal.com

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