Touch Football And A Middle School Crush: After the Fire, 8th Graders Remember Classmate Kai Shepherd

Thursday, November 9, 2017
April Dembosky/KQED
Credit: Courtesy of Mindi Ramos
Above: Kai Logan is pictured in this undated photo.

It’s wear-your-pajamas-to-school day at Eagle Peak Middle School in Redwood Valley, as principal Dan Stearns shuffles down the hall in his slippers and plaid bathrobe.

Eagle Peak’s Spirit Week, which features a different dress-up theme every day, was delayed by three weeks after wildfires devastated neighborhoods in this community, and killed nine people, including 14-year-old Kai Logan Shepherd.

“Some people have described him as shy, but that was not my perspective,” Stearns said. “I saw him constantly running from group to group, interacting, laughing, joking around.”

Stearns stops at a classroom on the second floor where a group of 8th grade students is hunched over their laptops, scrolling through photos of Kai: Kai at the beach, Kai playing baseball, Kai goofing around with his friends.

School was closed for a week after the fire, but the first day back, they asked their digital media teacher if they could make a dedication page for Kai in the yearbook.

“They’ve been working nonstop on it since then,” said Elizabeth DeVinny, who taught Kai in her honors English class last year. “They’ve been gathering photos and even asking if they could have extra space, because they have so much that their classmates want to say and their teachers want to say.”

Kai loved sports. One of his best friends, Brenton Wheeler, took a video of Kai competing in a wrestling match last year.

“After he was done wrestling … he kinda … he smiled. Even though he lost, he smiled, and, kept his chin up,” Brenton remembers.

Winning or losing, he always walked off the mat with a smile, said Shane Stearns, another of Kai’s friends.

The three boys played touch football every morning on the blacktop at school, he said. Kai was the quarterback.

“He would get frustrated easily, but –,” Brenton said.

“He’d always be laughing when he was arguing, though,” Shane finished.

Kai had other dimensions, and Janeane Higdon, 13, wants to show the side of him that she knew in the yearbook.

“On the outside, I know he was very athletic. But on Instagram, he’d just act like a totally different person. He would talk about nerd stuff like Magic and video games,” she said. “Deep down inside, I think he was a nerd.”

For their celebration of Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, students put together an altar for Kai. It has a baseball and football on it. And a box of Kai’s favorite cereal: Golden Grahams. Janeane draped a special necklace over the box.

“We had matching shark tooth necklaces from Six Flags,” she said, the kind that are sold in pairs.

Janeane kept one, and gave the other one to Kai.

“I had a crush on Kai last year,” she said. “So I brought him back a necklace. And he wore it, I think, twice. And then he put it on his shelf, I’m pretty sure he told me. So I had one of his best friends deliver it to him, ’cause I was kind of scared to.”

They started messaging over Instagram. Janeane wrote poems about him in her honors English class, including an ode to Kai’s blue eyes.

Because your eyes are as blue as the sky,

they make me get butterflies.

Because your eyes are as blue as the sky,

around you they make me feel shy.

Because your eyes are as blue as the sky,

they make me feel high.

Because your eyes are as blue as the sky,

they make me love the plain dull sky

Because your eyes are as blue as the sky,

thoughts of you preoccupy my mind

Because your eyes are as blue as the sky,

they’re prettier than a dragon’s eye….

Janeane gave a couple of her poems to Kai, and he told her he liked them because they reminded him of rap music. She was never really sure, though, what Kai thought about her.

But Brenton and Shane did.

“I remember Kai kinda liked Janeane, too, at one point,” Shane said. “I remember him talking about that.”

“Kai would say ‘It’s kinda nice knowing that Janeane likes me,'” Brenton said. “And how he kinda liked her back.”

Janeane didn’t know this.

“It kinda makes me sad now. Because we could have gotten closer,” she said. “And now that he’s dead, I know that we won’t be able to replay that.”