Family, teachers remember West Rowan sophomores Cody Rives and Tyrelle Johnson
MOUNT ULLA – The healing began Monday evening when students at West Rowan High covered the school’s spirit rock with black paint and wrote the words “God bless West Rowan” in white.
“We are Falcon family” was painted in the grassy area in front of the rock, serving as a reminder that the school will get through the loss of students Cody Rives and Tyrelle “Terry” Johnson together.
A cautionary message, “Drive safely,” greets those turning into the driveway near the rock.
The healing continued Tuesday morning before the first bell rang as hundreds of students gathered around the school’s flagpole to pray and grieve.
But, despite those events, guidance counselor Erin Shelton said students remained shaken Tuesday, just one day after their classmates were killed in a car crash on Sherrills Ford Road.
“There is definitely a sense of shock among the students,” she said. “They’ve naturally come together to do things to start that healing process with making posters and just spending time together talking.”
Shelton said the posters, hanging outside the cafeteria, include photos of both boys and room for students to write in their memories.
The accident occurred Monday a couple miles east of the school a few short minutes after the first day of school ended at 2:30 p.m.
Rives, 16, and Johnson, 15, were killed instantly when the Mazda Miata convertible driven by Rives crossed the center line at the Second Creek bridge and collided with a Chevrolet Trailblazer.
Rives remembered as creative, caring
On the last morning of his life, Rives hugged his grandmother, Diane Kirkpatrick, before saying, “I love you. See you later.”
She never thought those would be his last words to her.
A report from the North Carolina Highway Patrol said Johnson and Rives lived at the same Cleveland address. Johnson’s father, Terry Ikard, and Rives’ mother, Jannie Bell, are in a relationship.
But Rives had been living with his grandparents, Willie and Diane Kirkpatrick, whom he called Peepaw and Meemaw, for about a year.
The red Mazda Miata Rives drove to school Monday belonged to Diane.
“He loved that car,” she said.
Willie said Rives was excited to drive the car. When the teen first got his permit, he took every opportunity to drive it, even if it meant a short trip to a nearby convenience store.
Rives was so excited on the first day of school that he woke up early and left the house.
His parents separated when Rives was 2 years old, Diane said. He also spent every summer with his grandparents. On the weekends the family spent time at High Rock Lake.
Rives had a desire to feed children who were without food, Diane said.
She had learned of his dream from a minister at the church.
“It surprised me that he thought that deeply,” she said. She believes he had what he needed and wanted to help others.
He was a good artist, Diane said.
The Kirkpatricks’ kitchen wall is covered in artwork Rives created in elementary school and as a young adult. She proudly surrounds the colorful drawings with her framed crocheted pieces.
Pictures of a young, chubby-cheeked Rives hang in the hallway to his bedroom, where his size 12 shoes are lined up near his bed.
Rives stood more than 6 feet tall and would pat his grandmother on the head.
Diane flipped through her cell phone for photos of Rives Tuesday afternoon.
She stopped at a slightly blurred one and smiled.
“He and the cat were sleeping on the floor,” Kirkpatrick said. “I just couldn’t resist.”
The home is full of photos of earlier Rives. Like a lot of teenagers, in recent years he loathed having his picture taken.
Most of the time, she said, he was the one taking photos.
Diane tried to keep up with her grandson, who was a fast texter. He would text her instead of calling.
Diane and Rives shared a catchphrase from the movie Kung Fu Panda.”
“I will say Skadoosh to let you know I love you,” Diane wrote in a text. Rives responded with “Skadoosh to you too,” she said with a smile.
The Kirkpatricks said their thoughts and prayers are with Kara Graham, who was driving in the oncoming lane and suffered a possible broken arm.
“We wish her a speedy recovery,” Willie said.
Willie and Diane are members of Milford Hills United Methodist Church, but Rives felt comfortable at High Rock Community Church’s Salisbury-East campus.
Torrey Morgan, the youth pastor at High Rock, said Rives was a great kid.
“Pretty much every time you saw him he was laughing. He was excited about the changes God was making in his life,” Morgan said.
Morgan believed Rives would not want people to cry over his death.
“He seemed to be a kid with a lot of questions, but I’ve watched him through finding Christ just become OK knowing that God had things in control,” he said.
Rives’ last conversation with another youth minister was about his desire to help children who were without food. His idea was to collect a few dollars from churches and the community in order to provide food. The youth ministry hopes it can fulfill Rives’ dream.
Johnson was ‘future star’
Lt. Col. Herman Peterson said Johnson stood out among his JROTC students.
“He was humble and very disciplined,” he said. “Equally important, he was smart.”
Peterson said when Johnson’s classmates needed help in algebra, he quickly stepped up to the plate to lend a hand.
Within his first year in JROTC, Johnson became a sergeant, a feat not accomplished by many freshmen.
“Mr. Johnson was a future star, we used to call him that all the time,” he said. “Whatever we taught him he caught on really fast, which automatically told us that he needs to be in a leadership position.”
Peterson said the teen participated in a summer JROTC leadership camp to prepare for this school year.
‘We were getting ready to put him in a major position,” he said. “I told him last year ‘You’re going to be a battalion commander in about three years,’ so we started molding him to do that.”
Johnson helped out with the drill, colorguard and raider teams, Peterson said.
“He was just an all-around individual,” he said. “He is definitely going to be missed.”
After high school, Johnson had hoped to enlist in the U.S. Army, Peterson said.
Lee Linville, who taught both boys algebra I, said he remembers bantering with Johnson about college basketball.
“It’s going to be a huge loss for the school,” he said. “We’re going to miss both of them.”
Peterson called the mood during his third period class that Johnson was a part of solemn Tuesday.
“People were kind of quiet, they are wanting to talk about something else,” he said.
When word of the accident came from Sgt. Benjamin Laster, Peterson said he was hurt.
“I called my wife and I said ‘Man, this is one of our super stars,'” he said.
Taking time to grieve
Additional counselors from the school system’s LINKS (Learning, Intervention, Nurturing, Knowledge and Student Achievement) program have been brought in to work with students and teachers.
Program coordinator Carol Ann Houpe said they’ll stay at the school as long as needed.
Throughout the day, teachers who needed a moment were given a break from the classroom.
“We’ve gone into classrooms when we’ve been called to have whole class discussions,” Shelton said.
Shelton said the school has reached out to the boys’ immediate family to see how they can help.
“Right now, they’ve requested space, but they have contact information for the school if they need us,” she said.
Shelton said the West Rowan community has already stepped up to offer their support.
“The first thing that I heard from the faculty and staff is ‘How can I help?'” she said. “I’ve gotten tons of emails from parents and event graduates saying ‘Please call if you need help.’
“This is a very supportive community.”
Reporter Nathan Hardin, 704-797-4246 ,contributed to this report.
Contact reporters Shavonne Potts at 704-797-4253 and Sarah Campbell at 704-797-7683.
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