The New York high school senior whose '80s-style laser portrait with his cat became an Internet phenomenon has died of an apparent suicide.
The parents of Draven Rodriguez, 17, of Schenectady, told the Times Union that he died at home.
Rodriguez’s senior photo went viral after he insisted on having his rescue cat, Mr. Bigglesworth, in his yearbook photo. But it wasn’t to create any sort of controversy, Rodriguez said. Rather, he just wanted to be different.
“I really wanted to be remembered and this is kind of my last chance in the area before I move on to college and hopefully do great things with my life,” Rodriguez told ABC News at the time of the photo. “I want people to remember my personality and not just my face.”
Despite the school initially giving Rodriguez flak for wanting his feline friend in the photo, the student launched an online petition to gain support for his endeavor. That petition garnered more than 7,500 signatures. School officials eventually relented, as long as the school principal, Diane Wilkinson, could bring her own pet Chihuahua to her photo shoot. Rodriguez and Wilkinson posed together with their furry friends in one photo for the school year book, complete with a note about a cause dear to both of them: rescue animals.
“He’s an amazing kid and I wanted to support him even more,” Wilkinson told ABC News last fall.
Friends and family of Rodriguez say he went out of his way to make friends with people from all corners of the country – both online and off – via youth-leadership conferences and just around his hometown.
"He had an empathy for the world and for other people that I think is rare in kids his age," his dad, Jonathan Stewart, told the Times Union. "It was wonderful to see."
Rodriguez’s Instagram profile, to which he posted recently, on Feb. 16, says: “Electronics. Gaming. Cats (occasionally with lasers). Running. SGS/Shen Rowing. Guitar. Music. Calligraphy. Life.” He posted photos this month of himself after working with area kids on an anti-bullying project.
Some took to his Instagram page to post their goodbyes. Some of the messages said:
“Rest In Peace ❤”
“Rest In Peace, beautiful, funny, amazing boy. I am sorry that it was too painful for you to stick around. ❤”
“I'm saddened to know that you have passed. You touched many hearts. Rest In Peace. :'(“
“So sorry to hear you're gone. You seemed like a great kid with a bright future.”
“Rest in paradise. fly high draven.”