Shani Tiber recalled meeting 3-year-old Kyson Rice at family reunions. She said Kyson and his Spider-Man stuff were inseparable.
“Everywhere he went, he had Spider-Man in his hand,” Tiber said. “He was a really sweet kid. He had the craziest smile, but it was adorable.”
It’s a smile Tiber will never see again. Kyson died May 3 in what Tomah police believe was an act of child abuse. Tiber and her Tomah High School classmates responded to the tragedy by wearing blue in Kyson’s honor Friday.
The groundswell to “turn Tomah blue” started in the classroom of Amy King, who teaches a leadership class.
“It was a lot of disbelief,” King said. “They were shocked; I think they generally cared right from the start ... I think after the shock wore off, we were more willing to take a look at the bigger picture and what we could do.”
Students decided to reach out to the family and raise awareness of child abuse. Blue is the color associated with child-abuse prevention, and people are encouraged to wear blue ribbons during Child Abuse Prevention Month in April.
Tiber, a sophomore, said the class was working on another project when students learned about Kyson’s death.
“When we heard about this tragedy, we thought this would have a bigger impact on the community,” she said.
A critical part of the project was getting permission from the immediate family. Tiber started the process by contacting her aunt. She said it was an emotional moment.
“The moment I saw her, she cried, and then it really hit me that he was gone and that he was part of my family and that I’ll never see him again,” she said.
Alexis Spiers, a sophomore who helped organize the campaign, never met Kyson but was still deeply moved by the tragedy.
“As soon as I learned what happened, I knew we had to do something as a community,” she said.
Spiers was gratified by how her classmates responded. The high school was a sea of blue Friday with students wearing blue T-shirts, blue shoelaces and blue-ribbon face paint.
“It was crazy to see how it could spread so fast in three days,” Spiers said. “Now our whole community is wearing blue.”
King told students gathered in the gymnasium Friday that Kyson’s family was “in awe that you’re willing wrap your arms around their family and support them at this time.”
King said there has been less focus on the criminal justice element. The man accused of causing Kyson’s death, Marcus W. Anderson, has been charged with reckless homicide and child abuse causing significant bodily harm. He has a pre-trial conference scheduled at 1:30 p.m. Monday. A criminal complaint hadn’t been filed as of Friday afternoon.
“I don’t know if we have the power to end this,” King said. “What we have the power to do is show our compassion, our support and raise awareness.”