Friday, May 16, 2008

A friend learns of death by text message

Students and parents look on at a candlelight vigil held Tuesday night for deceased Willows High senior Steven Furtado. Around 300 people, ranging from family and close friends to students who didn't know Steven at all, packed into the auto shop yard on campus. While students recounted pranks, funny memories, and good times, adults lamented the passing of a student with such potential. For the students, it was "something to do," said organizer and mental health counselor Amy Lindsay. Valley Mirror photo by Tim Crews.

A friend learns of death by text message: ‘Did you hear the sad news?’
By Sam Bhagwat
of The Valley Mirror

Willows High senior and band president Charlotte Wehmeyer had known Steven Furtado since the two were in kindergarten together.

So on Sunday night when a friend sent Miss Wehmeyer a text message – “Did you hear the sad news? Steven Furtado died” – she didn’t believe him.

I’m not kidding, the friend replied.

Standing outside her house near her father, Miss Wehmeyer says, “I turned around and I started crying.”

Band members had Monday meetings – “around 7:20, every Monday morning,” she recalls. Steven was always ready to go: “He always motivated us, no matter what. He’s always been that way.”

The senior was first chair in the trumpet section, in charge of 12 other trumpets – including eight freshman.

“He was the most wonderful section leader,” said Miss Wehmeyer. “He’d helped them out when they needed help. He’d make sure they knew the music. He’d make sure they understood the concept of high school band, ‘cause it’s a lot different than middle school band. He’d give them lessons.”

The last time she saw him was Saturday morning, at Willows’ annual Lamb Derby parade. The high school band marched through the downtown, performing a number in front of the courthouse.

“I saw him when we were lining up to march, but after that I didn’t see him,” Miss Wehmeyer said.

In a class of about 120, she had at least one class with him every year. “We stayed pretty good friends, I guess.”

She mentions a bonding experience at the high school all-star band camp in Sacramento. A group of seven Honkers traveled down to the capitol together.

“We got to learn a lot about each other, make fun of each other when we played, call each other’s hotel rooms,” she recalls, laughing.

It was there that Steven met his girlfriend, Jenny.

“He was actually kind of secretive about that,” she said. He recalls one performance the group all went to together. “We all wanted to go, and were all like, ‘come on,’ and he was all like ‘I want to stay.’

“We didn’t learn that he met her at all-state until last week. It kind of made sense, he had that sort of lovestruck look in his eyes. He’d been alone for a little bit and he needed someone good.”

The two may have been introduced by Willows High music teacher Ellen Pastorino, who traveled to the capital with her students, but chaperoned another group.

“(Jenny) was actually in our band teacher’s group,” Miss Wehmeyer said. “Mrs. P ended up introducing us all to her group, and I think that’s how he met her.”

Mrs. Pastorino remarked before the trip that the “closely chaperoned” students would have “a really good opportunity to … meet students from all over the state” – casual remarks that seem now eerily prophetic.

On Friday, Miss Wehmeyer had not only band class with Steven, but also choir.

“He joined just a couple weeks ago,” she said.

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