Teachers and Students Mourn the Death of a Wiregrass Teen

A piece of Houston County High School was missing today. 17-year-old Willie James McGriff, Jr. drowned at Omussee Creek Park this past Saturday.

“This morning in second period his empty desk was just jarring. Words can't express the sadness,” says teacher, Janet Pedroso.

When students and teachers filed into Houston County High School Monday, many were just learning about the sudden death of Willie McGriff, Jr.

Police say a group of kids were swinging off a rope into the water at Omussee Creek Park on Saturday; McGriff landed, briefly came to the surface, went back under, And never re-surfaced.

Now, those who knew him are reflecting.

“Willie was very capable and hardworking, but more importantly to me Willie was a genuinely kind and gentle soul,” says Pedroso.

Student, Cody Whitehead says, “He was just a nice guy. He's the kind of guy you could just talk to about anything. He wouldn't make fun of you or laugh at you. He was just a nice guy. “

Jessica Smith was with McGriff on Saturday at the park.

“Just one of them real quiet, kept to himself people, always nice to everybody he met. He'd give you the shirt off his back if you asked for it,” she says.

“You never ever saw him be ugly to anyone, teachers or students. He was always nice to teachers. He was very polite to everyone. I really wish I had more students like Willie,” says teacher, Jamie McAllister.

Pedroso says, “Never absent. Maybe on a field trip that desk would be empty. Today was hard to see that empty desk and know it's going to stay empty.”

While the pain of losing Willie is still so new, Pedroso shares how she makes sense of his death.

“We're here for a temporary time in a physical state. We may not experience him physically anymore, but we will spiritually. I know that we feel him spiritually, and we always will,” says Pedroso.

It's still unclear if Willie could swim.
An autopsy was scheduled for today to determine the cause of McGriff's death.

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