Dakota Nicholas-Ford and Shawna Chase pointed out photos of them and Laura Lee Dorey that were stuck to colorful poster boards.
Chase pointed to one where a group of the friends went bowling. In another, Nicholas-Ford and Dorey were goofing off in English class at Haven High School when they were supposed to be working on a powerpoint. About 75 sets of eyes glanced over the photos during a candlelight vigil for Dorey on Tuesday at the Haven Community Building.
It was exactly one year since Dorey was first reported missing.
Family previously said 16-year-old Dorey hopped out of her bedroom window that night last year and left a letter that read: “This time you are not going to find me.”
A farmer found her body on March 3, about 400 yards northeast of her family’s rural Reno County home. A tablet, backpack and other personal belongings were found as well.
The cause of death was never publicly made. Event organizers said it was an undetermined death.
Nicholas-Ford spotted a photo of Dorey wearing her favorite hat. It the photo, Dorey’s eyes peered over an acoustic guitar while she wore a camouflage hat backward. Nicholas-Ford said Dorey wanted to serve in the military after high school, but Dorey knew she wouldn’t be allowed.
“Because of the scars,” Nicholas-Ford said.
Dorey began cutting herself at age 13, and at 14, she had come out as a lesbian. Dorey’s biological mother and maternal grandmother had both committed suicide.
In the U.S., rates of suicides are on the rise.
Suicides in Kansas increased 45 percent over an 18 year period, much more than the 25.4 percent nationwide, according to a Center for Disease Control and Prevention study released June 7.
Among Kansas counties with reliable data, Reno County averaged 14.2 suicides each year per 100,000 people. Barber County had the highest with 24.6 and Seward County had the lowest with 9. The statewide average was 13.9.
As a group of close friends talked in front of the photos, Connor Ford played on an electric guitar. Ford said he was in a band with Dorey. The band, called Velvet, played different types of rock and often had jam sessions in a garage.
Ford said they had a similar taste in music. Dorey, he said, liked Green Day and Red Hot Chili Peppers.
Dorey’s Facebook cover photo appears to be the 5-person band that has since disbanded. Ford, Dorey and another person are all holding guitars in the photo.
Ford played what he called the most popular song written by the band, “These Chains.” It’s about depression and seeking help.
The No. 1 reason reported for suicide was relationship problems which occurred 42 percent of the time, the CDC reported in a recent study. Additionally, the study stated about 54 percent of suicides occurred by someone not diagnosed with a medical condition.
Going by six year periods from 1999 to 2016, Reno County had 12.9 suicides per 100,000 people, then 12.8 followed by 16.4, respectively.
Ford once tried to commit suicide. He’s talked with Dorey about ways he was taught to cope.
Ford had a yellow pin on his guitar strap that stated: “Talk about mental health problems.”
Ford’s guitar strap had a yellow pin that stated “talk about mental health problems” that he got from Dorey’s funeral. He said it gives him strength when he performs and serves as a reminder.
The event was organized by a group of people who started the Justice for Laura Dorey Facebook page. The group hopes to garner signatures to change the way a missing child is reported. They hope to have legislation passed that would require something like an amber alert for missing children. The online petition had over 1,000 signatures on Tuesday night and another 30-plus people had signed the petition at the vigil.
Elissa Higginbotham said about eight people, including herself, were behind the effort for the vigil. Higginbotham was a classmate of Dorey’s. She called Dorey a band friend. Higginbotham told the group she remembers the first time she met Dorey.
Higginbotham, who graduated when Dorey was a freshman, said she had just transferred to the Haven School District. She was riding the school bus for the first day of seventh grade when Dorey turned around to introduce herself.
Higginbotham said she came out as bi-sexual her senior year. Dorey, she said, was an encouragement for her going public with what she kept bottled up for a couple years. Higginbotham said she kept her classmates from bullying Dorey. Still, Higginbotham knows it happened, at times, to Dorey.
Higginbotham was wearing a tie-dye T-shirt that had a Laura Dorey quote.
“Life is always going to be a fight, may as well punch back,” the T-shirt stated. On the back it read: “Laura Dorey 1/02/2001-06/??/2017” with angel wings as well.
About 16 people and businesses sponsored the event. The proceeds from the T-shirts and a raffle will go to making the vigil an annual event. Sponsors also provided burgers, hot dogs, drinks, chips and desserts.
Back at the photo table, friends pointed out one photo that was taken about a month and a half before Dorey went missing. The photo was when Dorey thought she would be sent away for rehab, Nicholas-Ford said.
“I’m gonna miss you guys so much,” Dorey wrote as text on a selfie to her friends.