COLUMBUS, GA (WTVM) - The Muscogee County School District confirms that Chris Cox, the Principal of Double Churches Middle School, died Wednesday night at the Columbus Regional Medical Center.
"It's an emotional day for students and staff of Double Churches Middle School, and all who loved him," said assistant principal Dawn Harper in a press release. "Mr. Cox touched the hearts and lives of many people across the district. His dedication, commitment, and contribution to children, education, faculty and staff will never be forgotten."
Teachers, students, and staff reflected on Cox during a moment of silence during their homeroom period. A team of professional counselors, social workers, psychologists and administrators are onsite to support the school community as they cope with the loss.
14 year old Z'nyaha Bohannon had to come back home after being in school for just few hours. She said she couldn't fight back the tears she shed for Cox.
"Every stop I took reminded me of him," Bohannon said. "Every wall of the building, my books, my papers…everything I looked at reminded me of him. It made me cry."
Z'nyaha said teachers used to label her as the 'trouble child.' She had trouble balancing between making friends with the popular crowd and studying to make good grades.
"She teetered back and forth on the personality she wanted to display," Z'nyaha's mother Zecorie Bohannon said. "Her friends wanted her to be the class clown, but I knew she wanted to do well in school. I'm not just saying this because she is my daughter. She is really smart and she makes good grades when she tries."
Z'nyaha said she often thought teachers didn't care about her while growing up. Then, she met Chris Cox in August 2013.
"He gave me a fist pump," Z'nyaha said. "Sometimes I will go to his office to check up on him or sometimes he would get me out of class just to check up on me. He said I was smart. He said I can be whatever I wanted to be. At first, I didn't believe him because people always talked down on me. But I started to see what he meant."
Z'nyaha hosted black history programs and won essay contests at Double Churches Middle School. Zecorie said her daughter never took on leadership positions in schools. The mother was surprised at the positive change Cox was making on her child.
"I visited him several times every week just to say hi and to thank him for taking such a great care of my daughter and other students," Zecorie said. "It wasn't just my daughter he helped so much. He welcomed me all the time. I never knew he was sick."
Z'nyaha said she did not realize Cox was sick or fighting cancer because he never showed any signs.
"He always smiled," Z'nyaha said. "Even when he was yelling, he had a smile on his face. I never knew."
Muscogee County School Board member at large, Cathy Williams agreed.
"I heard he had been sick for couple of years, but I really don't know any details," Williams said. "He never allowed his illness to slow him down. Sometimes I just marveled at his passion. He cared about education, and he wanted his students to succeed more than anything. I don't think he wanted many people to know that he was sick because he probably thought it would burden others instead of helping them."
Z'nyaha said she had a dream about Cox the night he passed.
"It was around 10 o'clock Wednesday night," Z'nyaha recalled. "I had a weird dream. I saw Mr. Cox and the background was pitch black. I woke up scared. I came to the living room where my mom was sleeping on the couch and told her he passed away. She checked on Facebook and said it was true. She hugged me, then I cried."
Z'nyaha believed it was his way of saying good bye to her.
"Z'nyaha always said Mr. Cox was like her father." Zecorie said. "She said he was like a father he never had."
Cox has been employed at the Muscogee County School District since 1981. During his tenure Cox served as a teacher at Rothschild Middle School and Double Churches Middle School. He was also the assistant principal and later principal at Rothschild from 2004-2010. He became principal of Double Churches Middle School in 2012.
Students were scheduled to take the math portion of the CRCT test on April 17; however, the Georgia Department of Education has allowed the test to be postponed until April 21 for Double Churches students.
Funeral arrangements have been scheduled for Saturday, April 19 at Solid Rock Assembly of God. His visitation will begin at 3:30 p.m. and his funeral will start at 4 p.m. There will be a private burial in Waverly Hall after the funeral. His family will be at Midland Middle School at 6 p.m. to receive friends and family.
A student at Double Churches Middle School named Z'nyaha Bohannon sent us this short piece she wrote about Principal Cox shortly after she learned about his passing:
On the first day of school, August 7th 2013 I was greeted with open arms. Since that day I knew I belonged here. During the past year I have encountered my share of problems. With those problems I always turned to Mr. Cox because he was like the father that I never had. Never will I forget the time when I was walking down the hallway and Mr. Cox stuck his fist out indicating that he wanted a fist bump. As we bumped fist he then said, " You have knuckles like a girl." I laughed and replied, "I am a girl." Then he said, "You're that and much more you could be anything you want to be!" Ever since that day I would fist bump Mr. Cox every time I saw him.
Mr. Cox was one of the STRONGEST men you could ever meet, not to mention coolest. For the first two months of school I didn't even know Mr. Cox was battling cancer. He showed no signs of weakness. Every time you saw Mr. Cox in the hallways he had a smile on his face no matter the circumstance. When Mr. Cox called you to the office it wasn't because you were in trouble, it was merely him trying to rectify the issue before you got in trouble. I honestly feel that he cared more about us than we probably care about our selves. Mr. Cox was dedicated to see his students be successful, so he pushed and pushed and now he has to see how much his perseverance paid off not in the flesh yet in spirit. This is what hurts the most but his legacy will still remain. In his absence this makes me want to strive to be the best I can be, NO the best we can be as WILDCATS. We are one and we need to stand up and pick up the slack by doing what Mr. Cox wanted us to do. Although, he is not here physically he is and will always be apart of us; "He rests in our hearts."