An upstate New York teen who became an Internet sensation last fall after petitioning his school to let him appear in a senior yearbook photo with his cat has died after apparently taking his own life, according to police and the teen's parents.
Draven Rodriguez, 17, was a senior at Schenectady High School when his petition for his yearbook photo to feature him and his beloved rescue cat, Mr. Bigglesworth, against a blue and pink laser background went viral. The petition gained thousands of signatures online after the school initially refused.
While the school did ultimately reject the individual photo, Schenectady High School Principal Diane Wilkinson embraced the student's vision and allowed a photo of herself and her rescue dog alongside Rodriguez and his cat to appear on her page in the yearbook, according to TODAY. Rodriguez, Wilkinson and yearbook photographers, Vincent and Fran Giordano of Trinacria Photography, said they hoped the publicity from the photo would raise awareness for rescue animals and their care.
The Schenectady Police Department said they responded to a suicide of a Schenectady High School student, but it remained unclear Saturday what led Rodriguez to take his own life. Police referred to a report in the Times Union, in which Rodriguez's parents confirmed his death at his home on Thursday. "He made friends wherever he went," Jonathan Stewart, Rodriguez's father, told the newspaper. "He had friends all over the country — people he'd met at youth-leadership conferences, online, just around town."
Regarding the famous yearbook photo, Stewart said, "He wasn't trying to stir things up with it. He honestly just wanted a silly photo because he had a great sense of humor."
Friends posted tributes to Rodriguez on his social media accounts Saturday afternoon, expressing condolences and shock. “We have all lost a smile in the hallway, a great friend, and an incredible mind,” fellow student Erin Thiessen said. “Rest in peace, Draven Rodriguez.”
— Daniella Silva