Friday, May 16, 2008

Willows high school senior murdered

This one was hard. Really, really hard. I worked 30 hours in two days and took the next day off, partially to avert emotional collapse. I might blog more about it later. I just hope I helped remember this kid I shed tears over, whom I never knew.

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County mourns: Furtado and girlfriend murdered
By Sam Bhagwat
of The Valley Mirror

Willows – Another one gone.

Willows High senior Steven Furtado, 18, was murdered Sunday in Chester with his girlfriend Jennifer Carrigan.

Miss Carrigan’s mother discovered the couple, each with multiple stab wounds by knife, at 12:30 p.m. Sunday. Jenny’s ex-boyfriend, Reyes Carrillo-Garcia, was arrested later that afternoon and is held in Plumas County Jail on two counts of homicide. There is no bail.

A week earlier, Reyes had taken Jenny’s phone and pretending to be Jenny, sent Mr. Furtado a phony, nasty breakup message, sources say.

Steven is the third loss from the Willows High class of 2008. Brian Parks collapsed on the football field and died in the summer of 2006. Kayla Arnold suffered from a medication conflict and died in April.

Police and counselors from the county health service and the county office of education flooded the campus Monday. Students were called into assemblies and told the news by vice principal Jerry Smith. Almost all seniors already knew, students said.

Adults and classmates alike expressed strong admiration of Mr. Furtado. They remember him as a multi-talented, hardworking student.

Asked about his activities, Steven’s cousin Brandy McDonald, a sheriff’s deputy and the family spokesperson, replied: “What didn’t he do?”

“He was only person in Willows High that had permission to call me by my first name,” said Willows High band booster and parent Warren Wehmeyer.

Mr. Wehmeyer highlights Steven’s accomplishments and activities — band, football, golf, woodshop, work at Sani-Food Market, an Eagle Scout, hunting, fishing.

“How this kid had time for a love life I didn’t know,” Mr. Wehmeyer said. “I certainly wouldn’t ask.”

Willows High senior and band president Charlotte Wehmeyer remembers Mr. Furtado’s leadership as first chair in the trumpet section. That made Steven in charge of 12 other trumpets – including eight freshmen.

“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 that middle school band. He’d give them lessons.”

Friend and Willows High student Shawn Simleness recalls his work ethic.

“In wood shop, all of the kids would be sitting at the table, talking, or doing homework, ‘cause they needed the teacher’s help,” Shawn recalled. “Not Steven, he would always be working. He’d have a whole dresser in a week, or a whole entertainment center in two weeks.”

Steven had been planning to attend UTI in Sacramento next in a one-year program to learn diesel mechanics. Steven mentioned coming back to Willows the year after that, rifle coach Bob Foust said.

The slain couple met at a three-day all-state honor band camp in Sacramento in mid-March.

“(Steven) was actually kind of secretive about that,” recalls Miss Wehmeyer, who was at the camp. At one performance the seven Willows High students 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.”

County Health Services director Scott Gruendl said at a Monday press conference that Steven’s death might be harder for students to deal with than the two previous.

“This is the taking of a life,” he said.

Shawn agreed.

“With murder, it’s definitely harder,” he said. “It kind of makes you angry, because a good person died for no reason.”

“The picture in my head of him and his girlfriend being murdered, it just sounds like a horror movie in my head,” Shawn said.

Mr. Gruendl cited the example of Jennifer Carrigan’s brother, who crashed on the way home after hearing the news and succumbed to his injuries on Tuesday.

When life is taken “in a senseless way,” he added, it’s easier for emotions to get out of control.

Community members may be avoiding the use of the word “murder,” instead using more passive words like “killed” or “died.”

A band parent noted Monday afternoon that in numerous discussions of the topic, she had never used the word “murder” nor heard anyone else use it, though everyone knew what had happened. It was not used at a candlelight vigil Tuesday night.

All note the need for a healing process.

A Sani-Food cashier said that it was probably too soon for those on the evening shift, when Mr. Furtado worked, to talk about him.

“Some people won’t talk about it,” she said. “Some people will want to talk about it.”

A group of close friends gathered Monday night to remember Steven, going out for golf – a game Steven played avidly.

Perhaps because of the news, students seemed to stay on campus for lunch Monday more, with nearby taco stands noticing significantly slower student traffic.

Willows High principal Mort Geivert says the three deaths in this class in unprecedented for him. He’s echoed by former Willows Unified superintendent Gary Kemp, who in 40 years of rural teaching and school administration recalls accidental deaths “about every other year,” but only one murder.

“About 10 years ago, we had a kid killed by a gang,” he said. “And that’s the only one I remember.”

The successive deaths have only sharpened the pitch of anguish, Miss Wehmeyer says.

“The first (death) it was like, ‘this is bad.’ But I wasn’t really close to Brian. The second (Kayla Arnold), it was like, ‘man, this is really bad.’

“And now, it’s like, ‘how could this happen to us?’ We’re dropping like flies.”

Going forward?

“It makes you wonder if there’s going to be anything else before graduation,” Miss Wehmeyer worries.

“We need to do is be there for the kids,” says principal Geivert, “but also be sure that we get them to the very end. The senior class needs to go to June 6 to get their diploma.”

And mentally for the students?

“Kids need to have faith and trust that the judicial system will run its course and deliver justice,” Mr. Gruendl said.

It will, like the healing, be a slow process.

Delaine Fragnoli of Feather Publishing contributed to this story.

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