STOCKBRIDGE, Ga. — Family, friends and teammates gathered at Stockbridge High School on Tuesday night for a candlelight vigil to honor a basketball player killed at a party over the weekend.
It will give those who knew Jesse Thomas a chance to come together and remember the 17-year-old’s life.
The Stockbridge basketball program will retire Thomas’ No. 13 jersey in the future and dedicate the 2017-18 basketball season in his name, basketball coach Rodney Latham said.
“He was just a great young man, a great kid. Just somebody that was becoming a leader. He was on the verge of graduation, on the verge of turning 18. Somebody I look at like a son,” Latham said.
Thomas had just found out Friday he’d been accepted to college. He was celebrating at a family member’s home Friday night but his brothers said others showed up uninvited. Someone in that out-of-control crowd shot and killed Thomas.
Students at Stockbridge returned to school on Monday for the first time since their classmate’s death. There were grief counselors at the school. Latham gathered his team on Monday, something he said was extremely difficult.
“They took it tough today,” he said. “We’re all together in one room. I preach to them the brotherhood aspect of it, It’s tough, the loss. But now we try to turn it into a positive thing that we can hold onto, to have that memory, that legacy.
“I’m trying to get them to hold onto the memories and to live through those memories to make him smile.”
Latham was going to a junior college, and then was going to try and continue to play basketball. His coach said he was a leader who would do anything for his team. In his senior season, he averaged 8.9 points per game and helped the Tigers go 16-9. Latham believed he could have played basketball at the next level.
“Success was going to find him,” he said. “That was a passion for him and that’s what kind of kept him going, was playing basketball.”