Erin Crawford, a Knoxville teacher, reacts with sadness during a segment of the MWAH! presentation at Knoxville High School.
(photo by Kent Kriegshauser Photography).

STORY PUBLISHED IN THE KNOXVILLE BULLETIN ON SEPTEMBER 1, 2016
BY JOHN R. PULLIAM

Knoxville –

Some students softly sobbed as Joe Tomich, the father of Wyatt Tomich, spoke Monday. Joe stood next to a large photo of his son and placed the plastic box containing Wyatt’s ashes next to the photo.

“It takes two seconds to go from this (pointing at the picture) to this,” he said, opening the bag containing the plastic box.

The powerful message was one of many delivered Monday at Knoxville High School during an appearance by the teenage performing arts troupe, MWAH! (Message Which Are Hopeful!) before an all-school assembly in the KHS auditorium.

A young man with MWAH! started that particular segment by saying traffic accidents killed 16 people last year in Knox County.

“Be aware of your surroundings,” Joe Tomich told the students. “It takes two seconds, messing with the radio, talking to your friends next to you.”

Wyatt Tomich was riding his bicycle with a friend in August 2015, near Lake Bracken. Police said Wyatt swerved in front of an SUV. The driver then swerved but was unable to avoid the bike and the young man. Wyatt was a week from starting his freshman year at Knoxville High School.

Looking at the photo, Joe told the students, “You can literally go from this, two years ago, sitting at my mom and dad’s kitchen table, being Wyatt, to this box.

He then reiterated his message.

“So, if you guys can take anything away from this, please, please, please, be aware of your surroundings.”

Bullying, suicide, stereotyping, distracted driving and other issues were addressed through music and words.

State Rep. Don Moffitt told those at the assembly, “If you’re needing help, whatever the issue, seek out that help. That’s not a sign of weakness. … Bullies are cowards.”

Moffitt also addressed distracted driving.

“If you’re driving, don’t text. If you’re driving, don’t be distracted,” he said.

Jennifer Higgins, the mother of 12-year-old Joshua Higgins of Geneseo Middle School, who took his own life, said, “Josh was a great kid and I miss him every day. I keep asking myself ‘what could I have done to save him.'”

No one knows why Joshua took his own life. Jennifer said he never told them of anything bothering him.

“We all need each other,” she said. “We all need someone to help us through those difficult moments … The point is to get help.”

A girl in MWAH! said, “It may be stormy now, but it won’t rain forever.”

KHS counselor Elise Lambert-McNeese said MWAH! was invited because, “We want to start the year off on a positive note … and truly have our students support one another.”

She said of MWAH!, “They address many issues, such as racism, bullying. All those issues can spin students into crisis. We want them to know they have support of the school and the other students.”