Family remembers teen as 'happy soul' who was victim of bullying

Published: Friday, Nov. 30 2012 5:24 p.m. MST

The counselor continued to check in with David, but the check-ups were about his overall well-being, Horsley said. David's family had also been notified and were working along with the counselor to help David.

David had been dismissed from school early Thursday — a couple of hours prior to the shooting — and went home with his mother. Before going home, there was a meeting between David, the principal and his mother. The school district declined to discuss the nature of that meeting.

David was also searched for weapons before he left, Horsley said without elaborating as to why the boy was searched. Other parents who have students at Bennion have told the Deseret News that being searched for weapons is not common practice for someone being checked out of school early.

The handgun David used came from his home, Unified Police Lt. Justin Hoyal confirmed. The gun had been locked up in a safe at the home. Hoyal said David knew where the weapon was and was somehow able to access it.

As David walked across the skybridge, he ran into a group of seven students he knew, Hoyal said. There was a "very short" conversation between David and the group before David pulled out a gun and shot himself before anyone had time to react. Hoyal declined to discuss what was said between David and the students.

David's family also declined Friday to discuss what happened Thursday leading up to the incident. Instead, they wanted to remember a boy who "loved the typical boy stuff — hiking, shooting air guns, video games and soldiers," Lake said.

David's family is of Vietnamese heritage. He was born in Utah.

"He was always more mature than the average kid and was very polite. He is the youngest cousin on both sides of the family. Undoubtedly, he was everyone's favorite cousin, grandchild and nephew," Lake said. "David was a positive and happy soul in every aspect. He truly just wanted to be everybody's friend."

The family said Friday that David was now with another family member who passed away.

"My grandfather passed away last year and David was so distraught. I remember being at the funeral with him and he turned to me and just said, 'I miss him so much,' and broke down. We just held each other and cried. We all knew David was my grandfather's favorite. I believe he is taking care of my grandfather in heaven right now," Lake said.

A funeral will be held Sunday from 5 to 9 p.m. at Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Kearns. The family said friends and classmates of David are invited to attend.

At Bennion Junior High on Friday, many students wore blue — David's favorite color — in remembrance of their classmate. Crisis counselors were at both the junior high school and nearby Calvin Smith Elementary School. A grief counselor was assigned specifically to follow David's class schedule on Friday, Horsley said. Ongoing counseling services were also offered in the school library and will be available as long as needed, he said.

The students who witnessed the shooting were allowed after school to have their own moment of silence at the site where David shot himself. Other students, teachers and the media stayed a short distance away as the group visited the makeshift memorial at the spot where the tragedy occurred.

Maxine Christensen, the crossing guard at that overpass, heard the gunshot Thursday.

"He was a nice kid. He was just a very nice, polite boy," she said. "Very nice, very polite young man. Just a great kid to deal with."

But Christensen said there were also times David would come running up to the crosswalk and ask to cross quickly because he said he was being bullied, she said.

Thursday night, a candlelight vigil was held on the overpass.

"He was nice to everyone, even if sometimes people weren't nice to him," said Bennion ninth-grader Brandon Newby.

Ninth-graders Makayla Schmidt and Ponia Clark said they came to the vigil not only in remembrance of the boy they had come to know in their classes, but also to support a friend who witnessed the tragedy. The gathering at the school gave students a chance to mourn together, Ponia said.

"I knew (him) really well, and I think other people needed comfort as well as me,” she said, her voice trembling as she looked around at the group. “I needed to find a place where I could cry.”

Makayla said bullying is sometimes hard to see, especially when it is done through cruel words. “I heard it, people (talking about him),” she said. “I don't think people realize how much words can hurt.”

School officials have encouraged students to report any incidents of bullying through a district safety hotline at 801-481-7199. The district also offers an anonymous text service for bullying to be reported at 801-664-2929.

E-mail: preavy@desnews.com, Twitter: DNewsCrimeTeam

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