Honoring exceptional students who are now gone

PASCAGOULA, MS (WLOX) - In the past year, three students who attended the Jackson County Exceptional School have passed away. But they will never be forgotten, thanks to a simple yet emotional ceremony held Friday.

The students came outside, one by one, to pay tribute to their lost friends. Three trees of life standing by, ready to be planted in memory of 16-year-old Timothy Billings, 11-year-old Joe Felps, and 20-year-old Shatara McGill.

Powerful bible passages are part of the program, as is prayer.  Then family members do the honor of placing the trees in the ground, which will honor their lost loved ones for decades to come.  Their classmates look on with memories of their own.

Everyone is touched by the show of emotion, including Timothy's mother, Kimberly.

"I just can't say enough," Billings said. "Timothy was a wonderful child. I had him for 16 years. And I believe that I will always have him, but he just went ahead of us."

Shatara McGill's family will remember this moment forever. Hazel Costict is her aunt.

"It's a warmth down in my heart that I can't explain. And I really do appreciate the school for doing this for Shatara and in memory of her," Costict said.

While losing these three students in the past year was tough on the classmates, it perhaps was even tougher on the people who taught them.

"We see the children every day, and we see them come in ill sometimes in many capacities," Principal Geraldine Miskel said. "So to see them develop from one stage to another stage, and then we lose them is very difficult."

While they may be gone in a physical sense, these three students will live on forever in the minds and hearts of the people they left behind.

The Jackson County Exceptional School is home to 51 students. More than 75 teachers, family members, friends and students attended Friday's ceremony.

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