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‘He’s here in spirit,’ 3 students awarded high school diplomas posthumously

<i>WLOS</i><br/>Three hundred twenty-eight seniors graduated from Asheville High School on Thursday
Three hundred twenty-eight seniors graduated from Asheville High School on Thursday

By Hannah Mackenzie

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    ASHEVILLE, North Carolina (WLOS) — Three hundred twenty-eight seniors graduated from Asheville High School on Thursday, June 9, but three of their original classmates were not there to mark the milestone.

O’Brien Gibbs, Harmony Smith and Teylyn McAlpin were awarded diplomas posthumously, according to an Asheville City Schools spokesperson.

In 2017, Gibbs was killed alongside his brother in a car crash.

In 2018, Smith, her brother and mother were murdered by her mother’s boyfriend in an apparent murder-suicide.

In 2020, McAlpin was killed a few days after Thanksgiving. One arrest was made in the case, but U.S. Marshals are still searching for the prime suspect: Dionate Whitson, one of McAlpin’s childhood friends.

Memories of the three students missing from the 2022 graduating class were kept alive Thursday night by classmates who did not want them left out of the proceedings. Jamir Gaines made a T-shirt with his deceased classmates’ names and photos.

“You’ve got my best friend, Teylyn right here,” Gaines said pointing to his T-shirt. “You’ve got Harmony, the track star, and you’ve got O’Brien, the Boy Scout. It hurts a little bit, but I’m here to do it for them.”

McAlpin’s mother, Javelin Duncan, scanned the names of graduates in the program. The absence of her son’s name was just another painful reminder of his untimely death.

“I’m sad because he didn’t walk across the stage to receive it himself, because knowing Tey, he would have done a dance or something,” Duncan said. “He’s here in spirit. He might not be here in the flesh, but he’s here in spirit.”

According to Duncan, she plans to hang McAlpin’s diploma in the living room, where everyone can see it.

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