Island Community Rallies Around Grieving Families
Hundreds Remember Spirit of Two Friends Killed in Accident
By ALEXIS TONTI
At a time when the school year rushes to a close amid a flurry of exams and festivities, life at the regional high school stopped this week as students and faculty grieved for two Island sons, high school juniors and best friends, who died in a car accident in Katama last Friday.
Hundreds turned out for the funeral services for Kevin H. Johnson 2nd and David D. Furino, held Tuesday in two quiet neighborhoods in Oak Bluffs. Some knew the families well, others only from a distance, but all had been torn by the tragedy. They banded together to pray, to cry, to comfort and to remember.
During a reception that followed, the parents of both teenagers saw for the first time the impressive memorial that had been put up at the high school. There, on a wall just inside the front entrance to the school, students had covered an expanse of blue poster paper with photographs and messages to Mr. Johnson and Mr. Furino. There was also poetry and artwork, and at the base of the wall bouquets of flowers. The effect was overwhelming.
"I'll never forget the smiles you put on my face during one of the hardest times in my life. You didn't even know me, but you cheered me up with your huge grin and crazy jokes," one student wrote to Mr. Furino.
"You were always so much fun to hang out with during cross country. Your rapping and gettin' down; you were always happy. It won't be the same without you," another wrote to Mr. Johnson.
Taken together, these messages and the others painted vivid pictures of the two young men:
Mr. Johnson, 16, was a cross country runner and junior varsity basketball player, who in April traveled to Spain on a school trip. He loved the summer and all things related to the beach. He touched many with his kindness; one student in particular noted his simple act of saying hello every day in homeroom.
Mr. Furino, 17, was an aspiring architect who in March spent time in Homestead, Fla., building homes as part of a Habitat for Humanity program. An athlete outside of school, he was described alternately as a snow boarder, a skim boarder, a fisherman and a surfer. He had just celebrated a birthday last week.
The notes at the school memorial thanked both for their sense of humor, warmth and thoughtfulness; they expressed what had previously gone unsaid - to Mr. Furino, "I always thought of you as my big brother," and to Mr. Johnson, "Thanks for making me the person I am today." The memorial was begun Monday morning, the first day of school following the accident. Students had gathered at the high school late Friday night when the news first spread, but it was clear at the outset of the school week that grief among the student body had not dissipated. The flag outside the school was flown at half mast. Most students had pinned to their shirts purple ribbons and rectangular black bars marked with the boys' initials.
On a wooden bench by the front door sat three boys, the middle one in sunglasses and with his arms around the shoulders of the other two. Elsewhere, behind a closed door, a girl sat alone, crying. Students stood before the memorial wall in knots of two and three; some wandered the halls, and others simply sat outside in the quad, opened to students for the first time.
Classes were held, but grief counselors were available throughout the day and administrators gave students the flexibility to do what they needed to to seek comfort.
"The kids were very supportive of each other. It was so hard, so sad, so confusing. They had to deal with all those feelings that go along with trying to understand," said school guidance counselor Michael McCarthy.
That the loss was felt across the Vineyard, too, was clear.
On Tuesday both of the funeral services and the reception were attended by hundreds of Islanders. It was a balmy spring day with a bright sun that carried the suggestion of summer, a sharp contrast to the mist and chill of the evening before, when a steady stream of people attended the wake at Chapman, Cole and Gleason funeral home.
The funeral mass for Mr. Johnson began at 10 a.m. at Our Lady, Star of the Sea Church in Oak Bluffs; the funeral service for Mr. Furino was held at 2 p.m. at Trinity United Methodist Church on the Camp Ground.
Many arrived early for Mr. Johnson's service. They sat on benches in the warm sun and milled around in front of the church. Inside, the pews filled to capacity and people stood two and three deep at the back; teammates of Mr. Johnson turned out in their cross country shirts and jackets to show support.
"We're all here with all sorts of different feelings, sadness, numbness, emptiness. We are feeling hurt and afraid and we are looking for answers. Why did this have to happen? Why Kevin and David? Why now?" said the Rev. Michael Nagle, who conducted the funeral mass. "We know our faith will not take away our deep sense of loss, but it can point us in the right direction and give us a sense of hope."
After several readings, the voices of the Minnesingers floated down from above, singing an arrangement of Ave Maria.
The high school choral group sang again at Mr. Furino's service, inside the small church beside the Tabernacle. The Rev. Dr. Mary Jane O'Connor-Ropp read her remarks in the form of a letter to Mr. Furino:
"Your family and friends thank you for your exuberant love of life's simple pleasures: skimming over surf or snow, fishing, touch football in the summer. . . . We thank you for teaching us that love of family and friends, and enjoying life each day, are more important than money and possessions."
Several of Mr. Furino's friends spoke, lightening the mood momentarily with tales of Mr. Furino's antics. The service ended with a group hymn, Amazing Grace.
A double burial ceremony then took place at Sacred Heart Cemetery.
As the reception at the high school wound down, a number of students spilled into the side yard, where they played hackey sack and talked in small groups. A fresh breeze was blowing. Inside, others studied photographs of Mr. Johnson and Mr. Furino that were on display: In one, Mr. Furino is collecting plastic Easter eggs with his mother and flashing the grin that so many have recalled in recent days. In another, Mr. Johnson is dressed in an elaborate costume, looking like a medieval knight in a ruby red cape.
And then there were photos of the two together: posed with a fishing pole in front of two thick trees; sitting in the stands of a sporting event with yellow pompoms in hand; at the Tabernacle for eighth grade graduation.
The photos in particular seemed to give people comfort. They brushed at them with their fingertips and pointed out a favorite moment.
"We know there's still work to be done. But we also know we will come through this," Mr. McCarthy said afterward.
"The kids really took care of each other. The difference from when the kids came to the high school Friday and five or six o'clock Tuesday was amazing. They really ushered each other through this terrible time," said principal Margaret (Peg) Regan. "We are getting back to our normal activities, which is a very healthy thing. To move on, we must find a way to integrate the grief into our life."
"Oftentimes anger is part of the grieving process, but we have seen less of that and more kindness, bonding and coming together. Some of that comes from the two boys themselves," Mr. McCarthy said. "Kevin and David were positive, upbeat, outgoing, and the kids know that out of respect for them - to honor them - that's how they need to be as they deal with the situation."
And so the students returned to school Wednesday to take advanced placement exams and make-up MCAS tests, and this weekend the prom will be held as scheduled at the Hot Tin Roof. But even as life at the high school begins again to move forward, a message on the memorial wall resonates: "They took you from our Island but they can never take you from our hearts."
David D. Furino is survived by his parents, Tom and Barbara Furino of Edgartown, and a brother, Michael, 20; his grandparents, Lawrence and Judy Stearns of Oak Bluffs and Nancy Furino of Edgartown, and a great-grandmother, Katharine Hoyt of Oak Bluffs.
Kevin H. Johnson 2nd is survived by his parents, Kevin and Anne Johnson of Oak Bluffs, and his brother James, 14; his sister, Katie, 9; and his grandparents, John O'Hara of Walpole and Kenneth and Doris Johnson of East Bridgewater.
Memorial contributions may be made to The Kevin H. Johnson 2nd & David D. Furino Memorial Fund, c/o Edgartown National Bank, P.O. Box 96, Edgartown, MA 02539.