A cold January wind blew across the Dollarway High School campus Thursday morning as the student body gathered in the gymnasium prior to the start of classes to learn the details of the death of one of their own the day before.
DHS Principal Arnold Robertson was tasked with confirming the sad news that junior Tabarres Miller, 17, died Wednesday afternoon after passing out during a pickup basketball game in the same building that his classmates were now gathered.
The Commercial previously reported that Jefferson County Coroner Chad Kelley confirmed Miller was pronounced dead at 5:28 p.m. Wednesday in the emergency room of Jefferson Regional Medical Center.
“You are here this morning so that we can tell you exactly what we know,” Robertson said to the students. “Tabarres collapsed and was not able to be revived. We know nothing else and we say nothing else. I know that it is hard and a situation like none other to hear this news. We will try to make this school day as normal as possible. We have counselors on campus ready to listen if you need them.”
Robertson encouraged the students to share their grief and to ask for help without feeling any embarrassment.
“There is no better time than now to lean on each other and on your teachers,” Robertson said. “We are all feeling it this morning. I’ve never heard you all be so quiet but I understand. Try to have as normal a day as possible today.”
It was standing-room-only as late-arriving students and staff crowded inside the gym door. The only sounds aside from Robertson’s voice were quiet sniffles of sadness scattered throughout the crowd.
“I encourage you to write a message and sign your name to a poster we have set up in the front of the gym,” Robertson said shortly after dismissing the students.
One by one, students as well as faculty and staff, approached to add their personal message to the large white poster with the words “RIP Tabarres” written in the center.
At one point four students at a time stood shoulder-to-shoulder in front of the poster, each with a pen and each offering up their written prayers to Miller and to his family.
Robertson said that his first priority in this situation is the well-being of the students.
“The main thing is the kids,” Robertson said in a conversation immediately after the student assembly. “To make sure that they had a clear understanding of what happened. I’m hurting for these kids. It’s hard when you are a parent or the principal and there is nothing you can do other than be there for them.”
Robertson remembered Miller as a good-natured and well-liked student.
“He was a very happy-go-lucky young man,” Robertson said. “His classmates really liked him.”
Dollarway School District Superintendent Bobby Acklin said that the death of Miller left him reaching for answers.
“It kind of left me with a numb feeling when I heard what happened,” Acklin said Thursday morning. “The students were walking around like, what’s going on?”
“You just have to pull together,” Acklin said. “While we may not have any answers at the same time we are ready to help our students process this. In addition to the counselors, we have several ministers from churches in the area who have come here today to speak with any student who would like to speak with them.”