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The Kalamazoo Gazette
Published: Saturday, August 13, 2011
By Gabrielle Russon | Kalamazoo Gazette
PAW PAW Rebekah Burnett loved to play, whether it was performing tricks on her skateboard or competing on Lawrence High School’s basketball and softball teams.
Friends remember the Paw Paw teenager as bubbly and outgoing, smiling and showing off her dimples. She’d wake her friend up by singing Michael Jackson songs or teach her adult mentor the latest slang words.
But there also was something about Rebekah that was deeper than most other teens.
She loved nature perhaps it came from her Native American roots and spending time with her mother and adult friends. She wrote poetry and had a serious side full of philosophical questions.
“She wasn’t your typical teen. She had a lot of questions on the meaning of life,” said her former high school basketball coach and friend, Patty Zimmerlee. “What 17-year-old thinks about that?”
Those are the memories that friends and family have of Rebekah, who committed suicide Aug. 2. Rebekah, who battled depression for about a year, had seen a psychiatrist and counselor and had been hospitalized. She also was taking prescribed medication for depression and to sleep.
Burnett family fundraiser
Pure Rituals, a salon in Buchanan is holding a fundraiser noon to 4 p.m. Sunday. The salon is asking for a minimum $20 donation for each haircut and all proceeds will go to the Burnett family. Walk-ins are available or call 269-697-5414 to schedule an appointment at the salon, 108 Front St.
“People who knew her could see she was hurting, but she’d always fool people with the most beautiful smile,” said her friend Searra DeLoach, 17, a Lawrence senior.
Rebekah’s mother, Bella Burnett, said she wanted people to know depression is a “real thing,” a disease that should be taken seriously.
A memorial fund has been set up to help with funeral expenses at Fifth Third Bank in Paw Paw, and a hair-cutting fundraiser is taking place Sunday at a Buchanan hair salon with 100 percent of the proceeds going to the Burnett family.
Rebekah was to be a senior at Lawrence this year, and was excited to play basketball and softball and run cross-country after she had surgery on her right leg last year. She was well-known at the small Van Buren County high school of only about 220 students.
“Everybody knew who she was,” said Searra, who met Rebekah several years ago and often walked to school with her. “People who didn’t even know her would go to her for advice. They’d hear from other people she’s easy to talk to and she can talk people through hard times.”
Rebekah’s graduation present was supposed to be a trip to Maine her mother’s favorite place. The 17-year-old wanted to go there because Bella Burnett liked it so much.
When she thought of her future after high school, Rebekah jumped from one career idea to another. One month, she wanted to work at an animal shelter or be a psychologist; the next, she was going to be a hockey player who owned a maple syrup farm in Canada.
Rebekah chided her mom, asking to carry the grocery bags so she could get muscles strong enough to become a SWAT member. Bella Burnett jokingly declined, saying she preferred Rebekah with flabby arms so she’d pick a safer career.
“She was always changing her mind,” Bella Burnett said. “I never would know if she’d want these different things or if she’d just wanted to see my reaction.”
Rebekah and her mother, a respiratory therapist at Lakeland Regional Medical Center in St. Joseph, were close.
“The baby, the last one at home we just did everything together,” said Bella Burnett. Her daughter tagged along with her and her adult friends to Italian restaurants and hair appointments to hear the latest gossip. “She was just so big on family.”
Rebekah also has older siblings: Joshua, 20, and Micaela Burnett, 19, and Michael Dallas, who is in his early 20s. Her father is Harvey Burnett, a police officer in the city of Buchanan.
Rebekah enjoyed family game nights, even if they got rowdy, and bonfires in the backyard of the family’s home.
But her real passion was sports.
Rebekah, a natural athlete, tried gymnastics, tap dancing, soccer, competitive running, basketball, softball, even ice hockey. She persuaded Searra to do Tae Bo.
But last year, her basketball coach remembered when Rebekah wore a red strapless prom gown, instead of her usual shorts, sneakers and ponytail. It was a neat feeling to see Rebekah grow up so much, Zimmerlee said.
“She’s just gorgeous,” Zimmerlee said, remembering the photo they had taken together that night.
If you or a loved one is feeling suicidal, call Gryphon Place for help 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year at 2-1-1 or 381-HELP (4357).
Contact Gabrielle Russon at email@example.com or 269-388-8412.