Mourners gather at the center of the Deerfield Beach (Fla.) High football stadium for a candelight vigil in memory of star football player Bryce Gowdy, who was to begin classes at Georgia Tech this Monday. (AJC photo by Ken Sugiura)

Georgia Tech signee Bryce Gowdy remembered at candlelight vigil

As several hundred attendees of a candlelight vigil gathered at Deerfield Beach High’s football stadium Thursday night following the death of the Georgia Tech signee, there also was a resolve that his life and passing would create a legacy. Specifically, a movement to care for those afflicted with mental-health issues and homelessness, forces that apparently conspired to lead Gowdy to take his life Monday, when he was hit by a freight train. The Broward County medical examiner’s office ruled the death a suicide.

“For those of us who loved him and were truly touched by his life, it’s put upon us to try to put him and his light and his legacy in a position that it’ll live on,” Deerfield Beach football coach Jevon Glenn said to the crowd that filled the stadium’s stands.

“And the way that we can do that, from my heart, is to be able to use the situation and what happened with him and his life to try to keep it from happening to as many others as we can.”

Those assembled included not only Gowdy’s football teammates, fellow students and school faculty and staff, but also alumni, parents and members of the community, including the mayor of Deerfield Beach. Many did not know Gowdy, the talented wide receiver who was to enroll at Tech and begin classes Monday.

“Something like this, with such a young kid, it hurts the whole city,” said Alex Morris, an alumna of Deerfield Beach who did not know Gowdy. “It’s not just personal. It affects a lot of people.”

Following messages from Glenn, the school principal and a prayer from the team chaplain, mourners gathered at the center of the field for the candlelight vigil, circled around Gowdy’s family. Many held aloft their phones lit up with their flashlights. As the crowd stood silent, helium balloons, some in the shape of hearts and a football, were released from the center of the circle, floating slowly up into the light.

Those who knew him remembered him as, among other things, a kind classmate, a respectful and high-achieving student and an encouraging teammate.

“Nobody had a bad thing to say about him,” school principal Jon Marlow said. “The kids loved him.”

“He had that fire inside of him to do better,” said Jakobi Johnson, who was a track teammate and friend of Gowdy’s. “He always did everything with a smile on his face, and he took his schoolwork really serious.”

Gowdy was an honors student in the rigorous international baccalaureate program. While a four-star prospect at Deerfield Beach, teammates remembered him more for their relationships with him and his encouraging style. Aaron Hicks, a sophomore offensive lineman, said that Gowdy called him “Five Star.”

“He was telling me, ‘You’re going to be great one day. You’ve got to keep working’ and stuff like that,” Hicks said. “It really touched me. It touched me. It meant a lot coming from somebody like that.”

Gowdy led such an admirable life despite his family living in a state of homelessness, Glenn said. Gowdy was weighed down by feelings of remorse for leaving his mother Shibbon Winelle and brothers behind while he would go on to Tech, Glenn said. Glenn believed that torment led him to take his life.

“It’s almost like he started to feel like it wasn’t right, that he would be taken care of and not have a worry and she would still have the same worries and all the worries in the world,” Glenn said in an interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Gowdy’s grandfather, Frank Gowdy, joined Glenn in hoping for the attention brought to his grandson’s death be a lever to provide caring and services for others similarly afflicted.

“All I know is I lost my grandson, and I’m hurt by it,” he said. “My hope is that this can become something that can help others.”

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