Courtesy photos Students at Walker Memorial Academy have been writing on an online tribute page that they will miss J.J. Branchedor's smile most of all.
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published: Wednesday, September 26, 2012
Walker Academy students mourn drowning death of classmate
AVON PARK -- A makeshift memorial greeted students at Walker Memorial Academy when they returned to school Monday The flowers and pictures were placed on the school's gate in memory of 17-year-old J.J. Branchedor, a student who drowned Friday at New Smyrna Beach.
Bill Farmer, principal at Walker Memorial Academy, described J.J. as a "gentle giant," standing just over 6-foot. "He loved to minister to the younger kids. He looked after everyone."
According to the Daytona Beach News-Journal, the academy junior went missing in the ocean about 4:30 p.m. Friday when he and three other people were caught in rough surf. The other three were pulled to safety. J.J. was found after 7:15 p.m. Friday, not far from where he was last seen.
Farmer said the school's juniors and seniors take week-long distance learning classes each fall and spring to Forest Lake Academy, a Seventh-Day Adventist high school in Apopka. The trip to the beach was part of the week's culminating activities.
The News-Journal reported that lifeguards and rescue workers on power skis conducted the search. Weather conditions prevented the Volusia sheriff's helicopter from participating in the search. Arne Nelson, with the Florida Conference of Seventh-Day Adventists, said counselors have been available for students at Walker Memorial Academy.
J.J. played on the school's basketball team. He had been a student at Walker Memorial Academy since the fifth grade and many at the school were encouraging J.J. to become a youth minister. Farmer said J.J. had served as his eighth-grade class's pastor. "His spiritual insight was very good," Farmer said.
Farmer said one of the first things that anyone would mention when asked about J.J. would be his smile. "He was the kind of guy who cheered everyone up. He was admired by his classmates."
On the school's new website, www.wmaeagles.org, a tribute to J.J. appears on the homepage.
"J.J. was blessed with a winning smile, kind spirit, athletic talents, a deep singing voice and keen spiritual insights. His untimely death has profoundly saddened his school family. There was only one 'J.J.' We pray for comfort and peace for his parents, siblings and family. As his school family, we cherish the moments we shared with him," the website says.
Cleopatra McNeil wrote on the tribute page for J.J. that he "wasn't just my friend, he was my brother and 50 years from now he will still have a place in my heart no matter what!"
Kelsey Asumen said she misses the "1000-watt smile of yours, your jokes and playing patty cake with you."
Kristopher Stahl and Nikki Ealy also wrote about J.J.'s smile. Nikki said, "I'll always miss those cheeks of yours, like when you would smile really big. You were truly an amazing person, selfless and always put others first. I will miss our little talks and how you walked around the school looking out for all of us. You were this school's big brother ..."
Read other comments from students on J.J.'s tribute page set up on Walker Memorial Academy's website. On the left, click on "Remembering J.J."
In HIS presences! (by: Minister Corinthia Cannon (Trinity Worship Center Sebring) - 9/26/2012)
We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord. (2 Corinthians 5:8) To the mourning family my deepest simphty is with you words cannot express your lost but I do want to let you know that J. J is with our Father in heaven looking down on us. I believe that he would want you all to not be sad but to move foward in the Lord. My God comfort you in this time in Jesus name amen.
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