Last September, we wrote about the plight of Draven Rodriguez, a bright, cat-loving 16-year-old student who wanted to appear in his senior yearbook photo with his cat pal, Mr. Bigglesworth. He created a stunning laser-cat portrait, gaining worldwide fame and forcing his school to tackle the “cat in a yearbook” debate head-on.
Sadly, Rodriguez died on Thursday. The Times-Union reports that the senior committed suicide at his home in Schenectady, New York.
“He had an empathy for the world and for other people that I think is rare in kids his age,” Rodriguez’s father, Jonathan Stewart, told the Times-Union. “It was wonderful to see.”
“He made friends wherever he went,” he went on. “He had friends all over the country — people he’d met at youth-leadership conferences, online, just around town.”
His father said Draven’s drive and creativity is behind the laser-cat photo.
“He wasn’t trying to stir things up with it,” said Stewart. “He honestly just wanted a silly photo because he had a great sense of humor.”
To create the photo, Draven worked with Schenectady-based photographer Vincent Giordano, according to the Times-Union. It featured Mr. Biggleworth, a stray who wandered into the Rodriguez household and never left. Anticipating the school would turn him down, Rodriguez set up an online petition. Ultimately, the principal rejected the photo for the portrait section, but she did him one better: She OK’d it for the back of the yearbook, on a page about the importance of adopting pets through shelters.
And she would be in the photo as well, posing with her own rescue pet, a Chihuahua.
Here’s the final picture, which Stewart believes will still make it in the yearbook:
Tributes poured into his Facebook page over the weekend.
“Definitely going to miss seeing Draven around school,” wrote Isabella Cella. “He was such a nice, funny and free spirited person, and I hope that wherever he is, he is finally happy.”
“You were such a unique, confident person,” Mikayla Foster wrote. “You had the whole world in your hands. Funny, brilliant, kind, accepting, talented.”
According to the Daily News, Rodriguez “funneled his notoriety” to raise money for his local ASPCA, and he was honored with an award for his work with animals at the Capital Region Feline Film and Video Festival in October.
Rodriguez is survived by his stepfather, Jonathan Stewart; his mother, Melissa Petersen-Stewart; his sister, Lily Stewart; and his biological father, Erik Rodriguez.
Mental health issues related to suicide are serious matters, and help is available for people in crisis. Skilled, trained counselors are available to take calls 24/7 at the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.
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