Memorial held for teen homicide victim from Randle
RANDLE, Wash. (AP) — Hundreds of people filled the White Pass Jr. Sr. High School gym. The Timberwolves’ bleachers held community members and a makeshift center section of folding chairs held the family members of Ben Eastman III.
Randle is a town of less than 3,000 people in East Lewis County. The combined junior and senior high school has less than 250 students and Eastman’s sophomore class had only 32 students in it.
The details of Eastman’s death — in which two suspects have been charged with murder — would be gruesome no matter where it took place, but in a community as small as this one, no one feels emotionally distant from the tragedy.
The school held a vigil on Tuesday evening to remember the student it lost last week. The evening started in the school’s gym with a welcome address from principal Chris Schumaker and words of comfort from Kevin Gillispie from Family Worship Center and Fred Frisbee from the Church of the Nazarene.
Schumaker spoke of Eastman’s humor and loyalty to his friends in the address. In an in interview with The Chronicle after the vigil, Schumaker elaborated on the teen’s character.
“He really liked to stand up for his friends,” Schumaker said. “A lot of the time, his friends would get in trouble because of his shenanigans and somehow he was able to kind of sidestep getting caught. So then towards the end he would kind of say, ‘Mr. Schumaker, it was kind of me, I deserve the detention.’ And I would say, ‘no, you know they did the crime, they get the time.’ He tried really hard to plea deal consequences his friends earned. But in the end, I would just say ‘Ben, go back to class, it’s okay. They’ll get through it, you’ll get through it, there’s always tomorrow.’ He was a good kid.”
Many people wore aqua blue and orange in remembrance of Ben and his favorite football team, the Miami Dolphins. A few people had shirts with a hashtag that said #JusticeForBen. His father, B.j. Eastman, wore a shirt with his son’s picture on the back and the words “rest easy son.”
“Ben made an impact on this community and this community loved him — I loved him,” Frisbee said to the crowd.
Eastman, 16, was reported missing June 27, but he hadn’t been seen since June 23. The Lewis County Sheriff’s Office began investigating and found Eastman’s body Friday in a shallow grave off Cispus Road.
Two suspects, Benito S. Marquez, 16, and his brother Jonathan R. Adamson, 21, both of Randle were charged Monday afternoon in Lewis County Superior Court with first-degree murder, first-degree rape, tampering with physical evidence and unlawful disposal of remains. They are being held on $10 million bail and are scheduled to be back in court to enter pleas on July 12.
During the media presentation of Eastman’s life Tuesday night, two children in his family’s section wailed. There was audible sniffling in the stands and a few students walked out of the gym in tears.
As the crowd of several hundred people filed outside, each one took a candle and walked to the bus garage. With Schumaker, Gillispie and Frisbee in the center of the circle directing people and offering words of comfort, the family formed a ring. Friends and community members encircled them.
B.j. Eastman, was the first to have his candle lit. Then, the flames spread through the crowd. In the middle of the circle, community members shared memories of Eastman.
Various people who knew Ben spoke about their memories of him. The words were from the heart and appeared unrehearsed, with many stumbling through their stories and adding details to underscore his humor.
After a few people spoke, Ben’s father stepped to the center of the circle.
“I just want us to remember the joy,” he said. “My life has changed forever.”
Those were the only words he said publicly that evening.
The fence held dozens of blue and orange balloons and three news cameras waited to get the picture-perfect shot of the family releasing balloons together. No one from Ben’s family spoke to the media.
White Pass held counseling services on Saturday and then again on Monday for the students to work through the trauma of last week’s events.
“We had six different pastors come down to offer grief services,” Schumaker said. “We had Cascade come down, we had our own counseling staff and then community members came to show their support. So kids had plenty of adults to talk to and each pastor got their own classroom (for) individual counseling. It was a good night. It just allowed kids to go to a safe place and express themselves and try to find some wisdom and guidance in a tragedy that should have never happened.”
Schumaker said a lot of students came to the counseling services and that the school will continue to offer support.
“In a small town, you think it’s a safe place,” Schumaker said. “When something like this happens, it rocks your faith in the safety of your town and in the safety of your environment. So it’s really hard and kids are coming to grips with this. Like, why did this happen? How could this happen? They’re scared, but also they mourn and it creates a tough situation for kids to have to deal with. This should not be a growing-up moment for kids. This should not teach kids how to grow up, because of just the ugliness of it.”