A family in Minnesota received the last school yearbook 12-year-old Kaiden Kauffman would be pictured in but, when they flipped through the pages, heartbreak set in as they noticed there was no mention of him.
Kaiden died in September, taking his own life after battling mental illness, according to his family. The obituary published after his death said “He battled many mental health issues throughout his life. His family did their best to walk beside him and support him in his journey. Unfortunately it was a battle lost.”
When his family received this year’s yearbook from Isanti Middle School, they were in disbelief.
“Not having his picture, his name, nothing, it was kind of like really?” his aunt, Sarah Erickson, told CNN. “We felt that they just did it on purpose… Almost like a punishment because he killed himself.”
His family was hoping to hold on to this yearbook as a lasting memory of him.
“We would have hoped there would have been a photo,” his grandmother, Dawn Kauffman-Mace, told The Minneapolis Star Tribune. “His friends could have written notes. That would have been a lovely keepsake.”
The seventh-grader attended the school district in the town of Isanti since he was in preschool and he was a valued student, according to a spokeswoman for the school.
“We deeply value every single student in our schools. This was no different with Kaiden,” said Shawna Carpentier, communications coordinator for Cambridge-Isanti School District. “This is not a light issue we have looked past. This was a very tragic situation we feel badly about… we made an unfortunate mistake.”
The school reached out to Kaiden’s family to acknowledge what Carpentier said was the “sincerely unintentional mistake” of leaving Kaiden out of the yearbook.
“Anytime a student passes away, moves away – they’re removed from class lists,” Carpentier told CNN. “We definitely sympathize with his family and the grief they are going through.”
Kaiden’s family hopes this is a teaching moment for the school and the conversation around suicide and mental illness will continue.
“Suicide is something nobody wants to talk about,” Erickson told The Minneapolis Star Tribune. “You can’t just erase a kid and expect to prevent future suicides. Nothing changes unless it is talked about. The school failed.”
How to get help: In the US, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. The International Association for Suicide Prevention and Befrienders Worldwide also provide contact information for crisis centers around the world.