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Students at Gunn High School Wednesday wore "hug necklaces" in memory of Jean-Paul "JP" Blanchard, their 17-year-old classmate who died Tuesday morning in an apparent suicide at the Caltrain tracks at West Meadow Drive.
The string necklaces, adorned with a clothes-pin "person" surrounded by colored beads representing diversity, were a souvenir from Camp Everytown, a four-day retreat promoting tolerance and non-violence that JP and some of his classmates attended in December.
The apparent suicide "was a surprise," said a Gunn junior named Kathy, who was among the 60 or so students who went to Camp Everytown. Members of that group held a reunion Wednesday in memory of their classmate.
Kathy and many others also wore black Wednesday in memory of JP.
Stephane Carlisle, a Gunn junior who said he had spent many hours listening to music, playing games and hanging out with JP, said his friend would not have wanted people to wear black.
"He didn't want people to be serious all the time. He wanted people to be lighthearted," said Stephane, who wore a white Nirvana T-shirt.
"I don't think he'd want everybody to be sad."
JP was an excellent classically trained pianist, Stephane said, and also enjoyed playing contemporary music. He was a good student and took challenging classes at Gunn.
JP was a fan of Lynyrd Skynyrd and loved to play the music video game Guitar Hero and the Nintendo action video game Super Smash Bros., Stephane said.
A member of the junior varsity tennis team, JP liked to talk and watch sports.
"He was a smart guy who was funny and naturally gifted at a lot of things," Stephane said. "He just liked living for now. He liked it when you didn't have to worry about anything."
Gunn sophomore Onaiza Kazi said JP had a special gift for listening to others, which was appreciated by his friends.
"He was really thoughtful and caring about other people," Onaiza said. "He would always listen to people's problems and offer his input. It takes a lot for someone to listen like that."
Onaiza was among the students who clustered Wednesday afternoon at a makeshift floral memorial next to the Caltrain tracks at West Meadow Drive. Police and school administrators -- including at one point school district Superintendent Kevin Skelly -- also stood at the spot for much of the afternoon.
JP's tennis coaches remembered him as an energetic and versatile player.
Jim Gorman taught JP through private lessons, summer clinics and on the Gunn junior varsity team for about three years. JP's father, Jean Marc Blanchard, brought his son to Gorman for lessons shortly before JP's freshman year.
"I remember his dad hanging out on the court and really involved with his son," said Gorman, adding that JP's father played tennis as well. "It was a great father/son thing."
JP went on to be one of the top doubles players on the junior varsity team, playing wherever he was needed, Gorman said.
"He was a great kid. He enjoyed his tennis," he said. "He had a great sense of humor."
Tony Moy coached JP this spring on the JV team.
"JP was able to adapt with any doubles partner and win matches. He was well-liked by many, as attested by his friends that came to visit and watch him play on the courts," Moy said.
"JP will be truly missed."
Counselors from the nonprofit Adolescent Counseling Services cancelled their scheduled appointments and opened their doors to Gunn students and staff Wednesday.
"The staff is affected as well," said Margaret Murchan, the nonprofit's On-Campus Counseling Program Director. "It's very upsetting to the whole campus because some of the teachers knew the student very well, of course.
"The students themselves are having difficulties. We're seeing them individually right now, and we're also seeing a couple of groups of five or six students that were friends of the student who died.
"We're aware that this could be affecting the student body for quite some time," Murchan said.
Skelly attended a 7:45 a.m. Gunn staff meeting, at which experts briefed teachers and staff on how to handle the death with their students.
"We're working on making sure we watch the kids and give them time to do what they can to try to make sense out of something that's incomprehensible," Skelly said.
"We're thinking about the next steps, but want to get through the next couple of days first and make sure the kids are safe. We're having conversations with the PTA leadership on this topic as well," he said.
The Santa Clara County Coroner's Office officially identified Blanchard late Wednesday afternoon.
The policy of the Palo Alto Weekly and Palo Alto Online in the case of deaths (whether accidental or through suicide) that take place in a public place and when the person's identity is widely known among his or her community is to publish the identity and information about the person's life.
Withholding this information results in rumors and speculation and stands in the way of the broader community grieving and engaging each other in a supportive fashion, Weekly Publisher Bill Johnson explained in a Town Square posting Wednesday.