PRIMGHAR, Iowa --- As nearly 300 people mourned the loss of a 14-year-old South O'Brien High School student who took his own life, the minister who conducted his funeral service Thursday urged the public to speak out against bullying.
Grace Lutheran Church in Primghar overflowed as nearly 300 gathered to mourn for Kenneth Weishuhn, who died Sunday. The Rev. Kim Peterson urged students and adults alike to use the teen's death to create a better world.
"Being 'buddies, not bullies,' is not easy," Peterson said, referring to one of Weishuhn's favorite sayings. "It has to be more than a saying; we have to hold each other accountable. Kenneth is giving the world an opportunity."
Weishuhn presumably committed suicide after he was bullied for telling people he was gay. Family members previously said students uttered slurs at Weishuhn in school hallways and sent him hateful messages using social media and texting.
Several students wore shirts decorated with homemade anti-bullying slogans such as "Words hurt, stop bullying." Other showed support by wearing Weishuhn's favorite colors, pink and orange, or dying their hair pink.
Peterson reminded the public that students are not the only ones affected by bullying, especially as more people use social media to post negative comments about others.
"Anytime you say or write anything negative about someone, you are bullying them," he said. "It destroys your peers; it destroys adults, too."
Bullying also leaves a hole in the family left to mourn Weishuhn's loss, Peterson said.
Even in sadness, he said, those who knew Weishuhn should cherish their memories of him, and he reminded the mourners of the traits that had made the teen popular among family and friends.
"He was a young man born to be someone; he was awesome," Peterson said. "He enjoyed shopping, shoes and friends. He was a respectful person, and he liked pink and orange."
Weishuhn's sister, Kayla Weishuhn, the only family member to speak during the service, read the poem "If Tomorrow Starts Without Me."
During the reading and throughout the service, family members and friends cried, wiped away tears and hugged each other for support. Some wailed as Weishuhn's casket was wheeled out of the church for burial.
As the service wrapped up, Peterson urged those in attendance to seek help if they ever feel as desolate and hopeless as Weishuhn must have, rather than end their life in an effort to end the pain.
He also urged the community to seek help in coming to terms with their grief or regrets.
"If you are burdened with guilt, anger, sadness, you take it to Jesus, let it die with him," Peterson said. "You may find you have to go to him more than once."