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After teen's suicide, teacher describes 'outpouring of love,' strength at school

A teacher says what happened after a teen's gun went off at a Florida high school is a reminder of the power of togetherness after tragedy.
/ Source: TODAY

It was one of her most difficult days as a teacher, and yet Katelyn Raber managed to find some light.

On Tuesday, a 17-year-old student in Florida died by suicide when he shot himself during a routine fire drill outside of Lake Minneola High School, where Raber is a teacher. A post she wrote about what happened in the moments after the gun went off is reminding people of the power of togetherness amid tragedy, and resonating with parents far beyond her Florida city of Minneola, about a half hour from Orlando.

Parents of Lake Minneola High School hold hands and pray on Tuesday, after a student fatally shot himself. Stephen M. Dowell / Orlando Sentinel/Getty Images

"The news won't tell you that those who were first on the scene were not paramedics, but teachers," she wrote on Facebook. "Teachers praying, teachers begging him to just keep breathing. Teachers taking the shirt off their back to try to stop the bleeding."

"The news won't tell you that within minutes, every single student was in a teacher's classroom and kept safe," she continued.

Raber told TODAY she shared her experience because it's important to focus on love and strength in times of tragedy: "I'm not the story," she said. "It's the amazing school I work for, and all of us who came together."

In her post, Raber described students of all faiths gathering to pray and share what they were thankful for, and speaking out about the importance of mental health and the devastating consequences of online bullying. She detailed touching acts of kindness: lunches were dropped off; employees from other schools sent messages of encouragement; students sent text messages to check on their friends, and tell their parents they were OK.

"I'm so proud of them," Raber told TODAY. "They all treated (what happened) with respect and reverence and many of them are using this as a call to action, to be kinder."

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"I kind of let my kids take the lead today," she said on Wednesday, the day after the suicide. "I started by telling them that they're loved and cared about and they're worthy, and that if they need to hear that every single day, then they can have my number and I will tell it to them as long as I need to."

Local news outlets have identified the student who died as Seth Sutherland. Raber said he was not her student, but was known as "the kid who would stand up to bullies and advocate for others."

Raber ended her viral post with a message in remembrance of him, and a reminder to everyone to be kind.

"The news won't tell you how many of us left today wishing with our whole hearts that this day had gone differently but also left grateful that we get to go and hold those we love a little closer tonight," she wrote. "What news will tell you is a story heard all too often. Of a boy who stood up to bullies. And was lonely. And was lost. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family, his friends, his classmates, and his teachers. Please remember today and every day that your words have weight and to be kind to one another."

If you or someone you know needs help, please contact the National Suicide Prevention hotline at 1-800-273-8255, anytime.