11-year-old who drowned last year honored at Lee’s Summit elementary school’s graduation

LEE'S SUMMIT, Mo. -- Graduations are usually emotional, but one in Lee's Summit proved to be extra special for a metro family.

A sixth-grader who drowned last year was honored during her school graduation Thursday night.

“She was a beautiful soul, and she just loved everyone,” said Shawniece Locke, Kelah Richmond’s older sister.

It was September 23rd, 2017. Eleven-year-old Kelah Richmond went to a birthday party, but never came home. She drowned in a swimming pool at a farm in Greenwood.

Kelah Richmond

“We still don't understand it because she was a good swimmer,” said Dottie Locke, Kelah’s grandmother.

Kelah should have graduated from sixth grade at Sunset Valley Elementary in Lee's Summit Thursday night. Instead, her family attended the ceremony and said their little girl was there in spirit.

“They gave Kelah an award, and it was as if she graduated,” Dottie Locke said.

To the family's surprise, the school not only included Kelah in the graduation itself, they said organizers made the evening even more special for them.

They included her in the slide show.

“When Kelah`s picture came up, the audience just 'awwwed' and they just clapped. It was a wonderful, wonderful feeling,” Dottie Locke said. “All the children wore purple ribbons, all the staff. It was just a beautiful ceremony, very touching.”

Kelah's family said organizers also provided them with something that will help them remember her.

“They gave us flowers, a tree to plant in our yard for Kelah. They gave us framed photos of her they had at the school, and they gave us a photo album of different pictures they took of her,” Shawniece Locke said.

They said all of the little touches meant a lot to them.

“It was really beautiful because she wasn't forgotten, and just to see how many people who loved her and supported us and our family, it was just a beautiful thing,” Shawniece Locke said.

The school also presented a framed picture of Kelah that will hang in the school for years to come.

“So much love was shown,” Dottie Locke said.

“Her memory will live on, and no one at that school will ever forget about her,” Shawniece Locke said.

“It`s a hard time, and we know this is going to be a long process, and we thank God for people that remember her and want to do this for her,” Dottie Locke said.

The family said it's been a long process to get to this point.

“I had a happy feeling, and then I had a sad feeling, wishing she was here of course and missing her, but I was just so grateful to have such good memories that my granddaughter left with the school,” Dottie Locke said.

In a statement, Sunset Valley Elementary said it wanted to honor Kelah in a way that was meaningful to the students, staff and families. They added that she was a young lady who made a positive impact on the school community and is greatly missed.

The plaque with Kelah's photograph will be placed on a wall within the school over the summer.