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Classmates mourn a friend

Surrounded by large floral arrangements, a goofy, gap-toothed Sponge Bob Squarepants cartoon poster peered over the shoulder of the speakers at Matt Terrill’s memorial service Friday.

The poster was signed by many of Matt’s friends at Oak Harbor Middle School, mourning the sudden death Monday of their 13-year-old friend.

“He loved Sponge Bob,” friend Jordan Kittleson remembered. “Every day we would joke around, just normal kid stuff.”

Everyone seemed to remember Matt as a joker, full of life and ready make others laugh.

“If someone was mad or upset, he would talk to them and they’d by happy,” classmate Richard Coe said.

Connie A., who preferred to not give her last name, wanted people to know one thing about her long-time friend: “He was really funny.” Through her tears she managed to giggle remembering a silly game they used to play called “Ride the donkey.”

Connie and Jennifer Lyseng had known Matt since grade school at Clover Valley Elementary.

Jennifer remember last seeing Matt on the school bus at the beginning of the year. She called to him, but he couldn’t see her without his glasses.

“I wish we could see him again,” she said.

Seventh grade student Leslie Hargitt will miss her good friend.

“He could make jokes about anything,” she said, but he was also helpful to friends in need. She recalled he once talked another friend out of killing herself.

Leslie said Matt helped her through a recent breakup with her boyfriend.

“He told me it was just not worth my time to cry over something that was gone. But now he’s gone, and I have to cry over him,” she said. “He was just a really good person.”

The entire middle school was shocked to learn Tuesday morning of Matt’s death.

Assistant Principal Matt Cobb said the school immediately enacted their crisis response plan, calling in counselors, teachers and administrators. The team drafted a response “fact sheet” for teachers to read to their classes, so everyone would have the same information.

“We did triage throughout the day,” Cobb said. Quiet rooms were made available and supplied with paper, crayons and other writing materials. Students made several banners and many cards for the family.

“It helps them to create something to express their grief,” Cobb said.

These heart-felt cards lined the bleachers of the gym Friday, as close to 500 friends and family gathered to share their grief, and seek some answers to Matt’s sudden death.

“Keep smiling in Heaven,” one proclaimed. Many letters to the family started with, “So sorry. . .,” or, “It’s a very sad thing. . .”

The Rev. Jerry Buss of Oak Harbor Lutheran Church reminded those gathered that Matt had been baptized in the church as an excited 7 year old, and that he was now with God.

“There is no harder thing than the death of a child,” he said, but then he offered this comfort, “We will be OK. This is not more than we can handle. God will be our strength.”

Buss said while many knew Matt as a happy-go-lucky kid, there was another side to him, a quieter side that felt things deeply.

“He could get down on himself,” Buss said.

He continued, sometimes the “self talk” that people hear can be harsh. Matt apparently experienced this harsh inner voice Monday, when he shot himself with a rifle in the family home.

“To end our life is never a solution. We must never give in to darkness and despair,” Buss said.

He hoped that all those in attendance would speak words that are soft and kind to each other.

U.S. History teacher Peter Szalai remembered Matt as “Light Boy,” who sat in the front row and was always the one to turn off or on the lights.

“It (Tuesday) was the most dreadful day in 21 years of teaching,” Szalai said.

“If there’s any positive message in all this, it’s that every life is worthy, special and meaningful,” he said.

Matt’s aunt Terri Forslof advised parents, “Listen to your children. Just because they don’t say anything is wrong, doesn’t mean everything is right.”

Matthew Terrill was buried in a private family ceremony at Maple Leaf Cemetery on April 25. A complete obituary is on page A2.

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