A high school senior who started a viral campaign to forgo a normal yearbook portrait and instead use a photograph filled with lasers and cats has died. Draven Rodriguez, 17, committed suicide at his home in upstate New York on Thursday, according to his parents’ statement to the Albany Times-Union.
Rodriguez was a smart, funny, and gregarious senior at Schenectady High School, according to his family and friends. Rodriguez became an Internet hero for his quest to use a laser-emblazoned portrait featuring his cat, Mr. Bigglesworth, as his Schenectady High School yearbook photo.
Rodriguez’s quest to get the school to accept his artistry as his yearbook portrait caught fire on the Internet last fall. After the photo was mentioned on the “Tonight Show” with Jimmy Fallon (among other places), members of The Roots even posed for similar portraits.
The Schenectady Police Department told NBC News that the department responded to a suicide of a local high school student last week. Neither the police nor Rodriguez’s parents have spoken about why Rodriguez may have committed suicide.
Over the weekend, Rodriguez’s Instagram account filled up with condolences from strangers and classmates. “We all grew up with you, its hard to grasp the fact that we won’t be seeing you around anymore,” one classmate wrote on his Facebook account, now a remembrance page.
“He made friends wherever he went,” Jonathan Stewart, his father, told the Times-Union. “He had friends all over the country — people he’d met at youth-leadership conferences, online, just around town.”
Here’s more from the Times-Union:
Rodriguez had omnivorous interests — teaching himself guitar, learning words from a Russian-English dictionary, rowing crew, making smoked ribs and other barbecue fare with Stewart, computers — and most were characterized by a single-minded determination to achieve what he set out to do. Which partly explains his briefly famous cat-and-lasers photo.
Speaking to the Daily Gazette last year, Rodriguez said, “I don’t want to go in the yearbook with the generic ‘I-look-like-everyone-else’ photo. I wanted a ‘He looks great. Only he would try that’ photo.”
Eventually the school rejected Rodriguez’s work of art as a senior portrait, citing already established uniformity rules for that particular section, but promised to include it elsewhere in the yearbook. Schenectady High’s principal Diane Wilkinson even posed with Rodriguez for a similar photo — Rodriguez with Mr. Bigglesworth, Wilkinson with her chihuahua Vivian.
Rodriguez’s father told the Times-Union on Friday that he believes the photo may still appear in the yearbook. Originally, Wilkinson and Rodriguez’s photo was going to anchor an entire page devoted to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), and other local shelter and rescue organizations.
In addition to his work for animal rescue groups, Rodriguez also wrote about volunteering his time for the UnMake a Bully project.
If you or someone you know is in crisis and wants to talk to someone, call the free, always available U.S. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 800-273-TALK