JUNE 6, 2008 — Adam Wilcutt was so short he had to stand on step stool to deliver his campaign speech for student body president at Johnson County’s Pioneer Trail Junior High.

Adam was a born politician. Student council president. Member of Pioneer Trail’s newspaper and yearbook staffs.  Later, a standout on the school district’s debate team.

To adults in 1990s Johnson County, Adam Wilcutt was a model student at a time at a time when most American suburbs was terrified about the rise in teen drug abuse, baggie jeans, grunge music and boys with pony tails.  Adam had neatly trimmed hair, good looks, a fetching personality, and a remarkable ability to get along with grownups.  A boy prodigy wise beyond his years,  one who knew when to compromise and when to choose his battles. Or least it seemed that way.

Mark Huston, one year older than Adam, was not Pioneer Trail Junior High’s definition of a model student. Though adored by many of his teachers, Mark was fiercely independent. He was more inclined to argue about school rules than find a middle ground.  Mark, too, was a boy genius capable of legendary achievement and mischief. Stories are still told of his uncanny command of computers, musical instruments, and electrical engineering.


Unlike Adam, Mark was not a school leader. He was a magnet for the bright but disaffected teens of affluent Johnson Count, many of them artistic and profoundly gifted. To Mark’s coterie, independence was their oxygen; compromise and phoniness was a pox on the land.

The need for recognition being stronger than the need for food, love or sex, independence is often overrated.  So is giftedness. A brilliant mind can be a cruel gift, a howling tempest of doubt and fear; a paradox of public admiration and private alienation.  Gifted teens live each day in full dread of each night. Nighttime is a relentless nightmare of sleeplessness.  It’s hard to sleep with an incessant white noise hissing in the brain, like the snarl of an untuned television.

TEN YEARS ago today, Adam Wilcutt walked to the family mailbox and opened the final  report card on his junior year at Olathe East High School.  No one knows if the D’s and F’s on the card surprised Adam or embarrassed him.  Perhaps he no longer cared about being a model student. At age 17, Adam’s glory days had already passed. Or maybe it only seemed that way to the diminutive former class president.

Perhaps Adam wondered how different his life might have been had he been tall and confident, and fiercely independent. Like Mark Huston.

After showing the report card to his father, Adam drove to his mother’s house.  Two hours later, Jan Wilcutt found her brilliant, handsome son dead in the downstairs den.  Adam had used a length of coaxial television cable to hang himself  from a ceiling water pipe.  On his 17th birthday.

Classmates returned to Olathe East two months later for what would have been  Adam’s senior year.  Family, friends and classmates said in interviews there was no mention or discussion of Adam Willcutt’s death in the classrooms or assemblies at Olathe East.  According to Camille Loftin, Adam’s longtime girlfriend, East teachers and counselors made no attempt to identify  Adam’s grieving friends -- this despite the fact that both an older sister and older brother were recent East High graduates. Tracy was active  in cheerleading, drill team, drama, and the school French club;  Shane was a standout on the school debate team.

At his class’s commencement ceremony in May 1999 there was no public mention of Adam Wilcutt, no moment of silence, no empty chair.


Two weeks before Adam Wilcutt’s East High School conducted commencement ceremonies for the class of 1998. Not in attendance was Mark Andrew Huston,  who committed suicide two years earlier in his first week of high school. Mark’s older sister had recently graduated with honors from east and his mother, Cindy Huston, taught in the Olathe public school district. 

There was no mention of Mark Huston during the graduation ceremony, nor any moment of silence or empty chair.    The printed commencement pamphlets for both graduation events listed each boy’s in small print below the list of graduates, next to an “in memoriam” asterisk.

Karl Krawitz, East principal, said  that he felt any public reminders of such deceased children would “spoil” an otherwise happy occasion for other families.  Krawitz repeated his stance eight years later during interviews with journalist David Chartrand about Krawitz’s handling of multiple student suicides at Shawnee Mission West High School. During the 2003 school year, two brothers at West committed suicide seven months apart. (see:  Mares v. SMSD)   The 2003 twin suicides prompted a lengthy lawsuit against Krawitz and school officials for their failure to install modern suicide prevent programs during a decade in which scores of Johnson County students committed or attempt suicide.

  Krawitz retired in May 2005.  The suit against was Krawitz and the Shawnee Mission School District was settled out of court in the summer of 2007. A few days after the settlement, the suit was dismissed by Johnson County District Judge James Vano.

The terms of the court settlement were sealed and no information was released to the public about any plans to introduce modern suicide prevention programs in Johnson County schools.

 

Adam Wilcutt

June 6, 1981 — June 6, 1998

Adam as junior high class president, 1994.

May 1998. Dressed for senior prom.