When Weston-raised pop singer Jake Miller got word in February that his childhood friend's body had been found in their old hangout, Markham Park, he walked out of a Warner Bros. Records recording session, went to his Los Angeles hotel and, in a stream of hyperconsciousness, wrote and recorded a tribute to Dylan Schopp on his phone.
Back in Weston, David and Debbie Schopp, reeling from their 21-year-old son's suicide, soon received a text message from Miller that included the rough recording of the song, titled with the nickname Dylan had earned at Cypress Bay High School through an exceptional spirit of optimism and humanity. It was called "Sunshine."
"You break down and cry, you know?" says David Schopp, eight months later. "It's very raw."
Miller's song came with a question for the Schopps: Should he take it into the studio, record it and release "Sunshine" to the world, or keep it between them?
The Schopps decided that Dylan's legacy, the outgoing and helpful demeanor that made him Sunshine, meant they had to encourage Miller to share the song and the story behind it.
Miller's Warner Bros. Records EP, "Rumors," which closes with "Sunshine," was released about eight weeks ago. Miller's video for the song, filmed in July with Dylan's friends and family in Markham Park, was just published on YouTube as part of Suicide Prevention Month and has generated more than 175,000 views in six days.
The video for "Sunshine" has also been in regular rotation on MTV, which is collaborating with Miller and the Jed Foundation's Love Is Louder efforts to help troubled young people.
The response has been "a whirlwind," Schopp says, with email offering help from across the country (the couple's phones are unlisted). In an effort to harness that attention locally, the Schopps created the Dylan Schopp Sunshine Foundation, which promotes suicide prevention awareness.
"We wanted to keep Dylan's memory alive. He was such a ray of light. Everybody loved him, and he loved everybody," Schopp says.
Pop singer Jake Miller helped gather admirers of late Weston friend Dylan Schopp at Markham Park to film a video for the tribute song "Sunshine."
One way the foundation raises money is through the sale of Sunshine wristbands, yellow rubber bracelets inscribed with the word "Sunshine." Since the video was released, the foundation has had a hard time keeping them in stock, Schopp says.
The Dylan Schopp Sunshine Foundation supports the Weston-based Florida Initiative for Suicide Prevention, Operation Smile, Wounded Warriors and other organizations.
Schopp says Dylan was a skinny ninth-grader with a mouth full of braces, a halo of blonde hair, an ever-present smile and a "ready, willing and able" attitude, when a wrestling coach first gave him his nickname. But it stuck for a reason, Miller says.
"He was one of those kids who was friends with everyone, extremely easy to be around," the singer says by phone from Los Angeles. "He was just always happy, just a positive, happy kid, always smiling. Everyone called him Sunshine."
As Miller moved on with his music career, Dylan went to Florida State University, then Florida Atlantic University. Dylan had enlisted in the Army shortly before he died.
"He had enlisted and was going to be leaving for boot camp sometime after this all happened," Schopp says. "He was wanting to make a difference and, something just happened, you know? He wanted to fight and defend our country."
For the "Sunshine" video, Miller used Facebook to gather a couple of hundred friends and family to Markham Park, asking them to wear white. The video, which includes family pictures and movies of Dylan, provided by his parents, is highlighted by the release of dozens of lighted lanterns in the sky, a scene captured by camera-equipped drones.
"There was a lot of love, a lot of love," Schopp says of that day. "That was videoed at the spot where he decided, you know, that … it was over. It was a special spot where him and his buddies used to go in high school. So it was a beautiful afternoon and a beautiful evening. Everybody was there because they love us and they love Dylan."
The opening scene of the video shows Dylan zipping along on a skateboard, as Miller sings, "Will I see you again when I'm lost in the dark? Will you be there for me when I look at the stars?"
Schopp says it is difficult to watch it, but he does monitor the comments section for the video, where girls and young women thank Miller for the song and helping them dispel thoughts of suicide. Schopp calls suicide among young people "an epidemic."
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, for young people between the ages of 10 and 24, suicide is the third leading cause of death, resulting in approximately 4,600 lives lost each year.
"If it could happen to us, it could happen to anyone," Schopp says. "There are a lot of troubled kids out there, and if we could do something to have a young person seek help, to say, 'I'm having bad thoughts and could someone lead me in the right direction?' that's what we want."
This story originally appeared in the South Florida Sun Sentinel on September 15, 2015 written by Ben Crandell.