Mental health in Cherry Creek School District

Jack Padilla remembered: 'He always thought of others first'

Family remembers Cherry Creek High freshman as compassionate, even as a kid

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When a student with mental disabilities invited fellow students to a birthday party in the fourth grade, Jack Padilla was the only kid who showed up.

“He said, ‘Mom, dad, that was the best thing I could have done,’ ” said Rick Padilla, his father.

That was one of Jack’s defining characteristics: “He always thought of others first,” Padilla said.

The stories pile up: After a student came out as gay in eighth grade and feared going to high school, Jack was the first to welcome and comfort him at Cherry Creek High School. Another peer, struggling with his mental health, took home-schooling for a while and was terrified to return to school. Jack welcomed him back, too, Rick Padilla said.

Jack, a 15-year-old freshman, took his own life in February after dealing with bullying at school and on social media, and experiencing depression.

It was a loss that, along with another suicide death of a student of that school, elicited a walkout in April at Cherry Creek High, with some students wearing “#Jackstrong” shirts — Jack’s brother, John Padilla, carried a large, poster-board photo of Jack in the crowd.

About seven months later, his father sat at Village Greens Park — a stone’s throw away from the high school — and remembered how his son played lacrosse and little league football there throughout his childhood. A memorial bench for Jack sits along a park path now.

As a lacrosse goalie, Jack — who played for Cherry Creek High — was arguably the best in his age group in Colorado, Rick Padilla said. The Colorado Mammoth, a box lacrosse team, honored Jack before a game in April, featuring a message from Denver Mayor Michael Hancock in support of the work by Jack’s friends and family to raise awareness about suicide.

Away from the high-profile attention, Rick Padilla still smiles at a video of Jack jumping into a bin of rubber balls at a store.

He was “a very compassionate, fun-loving kid,” Padilla said with a smile.

Jack’s brother wrote on a GoFundMe page for the family’s “Jackstrong” suicide prevention effort that the strength Jack showed on the lacrosse field also spilled over to his personal life.

“Jack’s altruism, empathy, and strength,” John Padilla wrote, “were evident in everything he did.”

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