Grandma speaks of support after student’s death, urges those struggling to seek help

Rev. Bronnie Lennon said her grandson had a joyful personality.

“He was sweet, respectful, outgoing, compassionate. He had a smile that would light up your day. He was a very respectful young man,” she said. “When he smiled at you, it would make your day. His smile would brighten up your day.”

The Albemarle High sophomore loved playing basketball at the school and the Stanly County YMCA.

Lennon said there were no signs something was wrong.

However, on April 25, her grandson, 16-year-old James Anthony Watkins, took his life.

“You never know what’s behind a smile,” Lennon said in a phone interview this week.

She called The Stanly News & Press to thank people who have helped her family over the last month, as well as to talk to other people who may be struggling.

“A person can be smiling and getting ready to do something to themselves,” she said. “Always try to find somebody if you’re dealing with something you can’t handle, find somebody you can trust. There’s always somebody that’s willing to listen and not judge you.

“A lot of people want to judge people for their lifestyle or whatever’s going on in their life,” she added. “My grandson didn’t have a mental problem. He had a jolly time all the time. He was smiling. He had a good home life. That’s why it’s so shocking to us that this happened. Always try to find somebody you can talk to.

“There were no signs to indicate he was struggling with something. But you never know what’s behind a smile.”

She urged people to find a pastor or spiritual leader to talk to.

“Being a pastor myself, I don’t judge people. We have to talk to people without judging them,” she said. “We don’t have any right to judge anybody no matter how bad your situation might be. No matter what, find somebody you can trust that’s not going to judge you.”

Lennon spoke of how different entities of her life came together to help, such as her church, Mount Zion Missionary Baptist in Albemarle, her employer, Oakboro Kids Club/Quality Child Care, pastors and community members from Anson County, where she lives, and throughout Stanly County.

Albemarle High posted the following on its Facebook page May 3: “In Honor Of The Life Of James Watkins, We Gathered As A Bulldog Family This Morning Around The Pole. We Paid Tribute To A Remarkable Individual Whose Radiant Smile Could Brighten Even The Darkest Days. With Profound Sadness, We Remember Him And His Infectious Joy.”

Lennon spoke very highly of Beverly Pennington, the school’s principal.

“She was by our side every step of the way, even during her own time of grief,” Lennon said, referring to the sudden death of Pennington’s husband.

Lennon said teachers, staff, friends and Booster Club members came by, sharing stories about her grandson. They had a vigil.
McKinley’s Yum Yum Shop donated 100% of sales on April 28 to the family, with Lennon saying “they had so many people wrapped around the building.”

“I lost a nephew 9 months ago from a liver disease and it’s so important for the parents [to] have support rather it’s mentally or physically or financially. In this situation this mom needs us as a community to step in,” owner Curtis Leach said on the business’ Facebook page.

Lennon said repeatedly how the support, whether it be financially, through food or by visiting, had overwhelmingly touched the family.

“I want Stanly County to know that we, me and my family, we really appreciate everything they’ve done and are still doing to get through this grief,” she said. “It’s really hard, but when people pull together like this it means a difference.

“People say a lot of things about Albemarle, one thing I can say about Albemarle, in your time of need, they will stick together, no matter what color or race, they will come together for you. If that’s not love I don’t know what is. Love is not the color of our skin. Love is coming together like Stanly County did. Stanly County came up to the plate and it did what it needed to do.

“I know there is a god because if there wasn’t a god these people wouldn’t have come together. God touches people’s hearts,” she continued. “Stanly County grieved with us. I felt the support and I felt like even though our burden was very heavy … we felt the love, their support. We felt that. It was like people were grieving with us, helping us carry the load. It’s a heavy load. Stanly County helped us carry the load.”

Call 988 or visit https://988lifeline.org/ if you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts.

B.J. Drye is general manager/editor of The Stanly News & Press. Call 704-982-2123.