Belton gathers for grief, love and strength over teen deaths | The Kansas City Star


Together in the end; Belton rallies after two ‘inseparable’ friends are killed

Jacob Zimmer and Cody Langer were together in the end — inseparable friends on a dark and lonely road, walking.

Life wasn’t easy for the two Belton teenagers who died when they were hit by a van Friday night. Their families struggled. They had suffered, friends said.

But a grieving community searched for comfort in a gathering of more than 100 people Sunday night, knowing that Cody and Jacob felt friendship and caring in Belton.

The message the gathered people shared came clear: This community needs that love and caring more than ever.

“We need to remember to do that . . . to show love, kindness, caring and understanding,” Sarah Meakins told the crowd. “I know we can do that. Look around you. We are Belton. We are strong.”

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Jacob Zimmer, left, and Cody Langer Photo courtesy Krystal Hunter

The boys were walking along Peculiar Drive when they died — a two-lane road without sidewalks, poorly lit, that runs parallel to U.S. 49 like a service road with a 45-mph speed limit.

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They had spent their Friday night visiting friends at McDonald’s and the Texas Roadhouse restaurant, and then they were walking in the dark.

They were hit and killed by a blue Dodge Caravan between Cunningham Industrial Parkway and Cambridge Road, police said. Police made contact with the driver — a 41-year-old woman — and located the van. No more information had been released Sunday.

The past few months Cody and Jacob had lived in a house with many friends and a caretaker, said one of those friends, Chance Shoemaker.

Shoemaker had been texting with them within that last hour before they died, he said. The friendships they had were giving all the teens new courage to make plans and imagine new life possibilities, he said.

“We were the place they ran to for comfort,” Chance said. “Now it’s hard to find comfort.”

Jacob and Cody’s deaths fell on a Belton High School community that has now seen four of its students die this year, Principal Phil Clark said.

“We have an ‘I Love You’ sign,” Clark, said, raising his hand to the crowd. The hand sign — holding out the thumb and extending the index and pinky fingers — in different circumstances could be waved whimsically, affirming friendships.

But here it was a signal for strength and a plea, Clark said, that people “lift Belton High School and this entire community in prayer.”

Their deaths weigh on a community that yearns for safe places for their youth, said co-organizers of the vigil, Tammy Wiggins and Shay Jefferson.

The youth of Belton are losing too many friends, they said.

“Our youth are hurting, our kids are hurting,” Jefferson said. “We want their families to know and their kids know that we are suffering this loss together.”

Many families in Belton are poor, Wiggins said. Many, like Cody and Jacob’s families, are dealing with hardship, and the community needs to be able to offer more support, she said.

“We have nothing out here for our youth to do,” Wiggins said. “I don’t know if it would have made a difference (with Friday’s tragedy), but we just want to see our community come together . . . (and share) a message of safety.”

“This is going to be hard,” she said.

Cody’s aunt, Angela Reed, remembered that in one of the last conversations she had with her nephew, he asked her: Would you rather have a long unhappy life? Or a short happy one?

She didn’t want to have to see it realized this way, she said.

“There were struggles,” she said. “But there were good moments and memories.”

The two teens walked everywhere together, Cody’s older sister, Marlonna Langer, said. And his sisters like to think they are walking together now.

“Enjoy yourself,” Cody’s younger sister, Dasia Langer said in a poem. “Be free.”

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