Fallen classmates honored during graduation

Published: May. 8, 2022 at 9:51 PM CDT|Updated: May. 8, 2022 at 9:57 PM CDT
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LAKE CITY, Ark. (KAIT) - Three chairs sat empty at the Riverside High School graduation, honoring classmates who died over the last 12 years.

The students’ families said it was like their loved ones were there in spirit.

“They will never be forgotten,” Shannon Kelums said.

“They had three roses there, and they had three seats open, and I think that’s when it was unreal,” Shelby Gilley said.

Sunday, May 1, would have been the day Riverside students J.J. Manis, Slade Gilley, and Bailey Kelems would have graduated high school.

Gilley’s sister attended graduation in his honor.

“Even though he got on my nerves, I will say I love him to death, and I wouldn’t have traded him for anything,” Gilley said of her brother Slade who died in a house explosion while in elementary school.

Months after Gilley’s death came another: Bailey Kelems died while undergoing cancer treatment.

“Bailey was an inspiration,” said her dad, Shannon Kelums. He said knew she was at her graduation in spirit. “You could just feel the energy in the room. Not just Bailey, but the other two children also.”

J.J. Manis died last September in a car crash.

Three students who are loved and dearly missed by their classmates now have special places at each school where they will be remembered.

“It shows them to live life to the fullest and, without God, you can’t do anything,” Roxanne Gilley said.

Slade Gilley’s memorial bench is on the playground at Riverside West Elementary,

Bailey Kelem’s memorial bench is on the Riverside East playground, and J.J. Manis’s bench is on the high school patio.

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