Public memorial is Friday for slain Pacific teen

Jaclyn Leibrant and Tristan Howard speak in front of the Pacific City Council on Monday. The Mount Baker eighth graders are organizing a candlelight memorial for slain seventh-grader Walter Denesha. - Shawn Skager/Reporter
Jaclyn Leibrant and Tristan Howard speak in front of the Pacific City Council on Monday. The Mount Baker eighth graders are organizing a candlelight memorial for slain seventh-grader Walter Denesha.
— image credit: Shawn Skager/Reporter

From 6 to 8 p.m. Friday in Pacific Park, friends, classmates and acquaintances of Walter Denesha (pictured below) will gather for a candlelight memorial to illuminate a life lost.

They will come together not to remember the horrific manner in which the Mount Baker Middle School seventh-grader lost his life but to honor the unique spirit of a blue-haired kid who figured out early that it was more fun to be an individual and stand out than to conform.

Eighth-grader Tristan Howard was one of Denesha's best friends.

"I'd always hang out with him," Howard said. "I could always rely on him, tell him anything. I could always go to his place. Now that he's gone, a big chunk of my life is gone."

Howard and classmate Jaclyn Leibrant organized the memorial not only to raise money for Denesha's family but also to celebrate what made their friend unique.

"He decided to dye his hair blue because it was one of his favorite colors, though not his main one," Howard remembers. "It made everyone think of a Smurf."

According to Howard, the pint-sized Denesha owned his uniqueness, choosing to defuse potential static from his peers with humor rather than take it to heart.

"He decided to make a catchphrase and would always say 'Smurfing it out,' '" Howard said.

"He was himself," Leibrant agreed. "He didn't change who he was to fit in and be popular. He was proud of who he was, and he showed it. A lot of kids our age don't realize that. They're too afraid they just want to be what they think other people want them to be."

Since his death, Denesha's trademark blue and his individuality have become rallying points for Mount Baker students still struggling to come to grips with the loss of their classmate.

"All the hallways are covered in posters, and all say something about how he wasn't afraid to show his individuality," Leibrant said. "All the kids say he was a role model to them and it's cool to see them step up and do that."

Although Howard's pleased to see people looking to his friends' individuality as a strength, he can't help but wish that more people had realized it while Denesha was alive.

"If they're sorry now, why weren't they sorry then?" Howard said. "They should have realized that then. When he would just have fun and do what he wanted, he would sometimes get bullied."

Leibrant and Howard said helping others understand that it's OK to be different is one of their hopes for vigil.

"We're kind of doing this because people on our Facebooks are saying they regret what they said about him and what they did," Leibrant said. "People didn't realize until it was too late. So we just want to do that in remembrance for him and his individuality. The kids from the school didn't have a chance to go and express their feelings. So we thought it would be nice for them to have a place to go and maybe say a few words, maybe sing a song to show their appreciation for him."

Leibrant's mother, Lisa Leibrant, said that in addition to remembering Denesha, organizers will sell T-shirts, cake pops and candles, with proceeds going towards Denesha's family.

"You don't have to be a close friend of the family to give a little time," she said. "I didn't know him, he was just a little blue-haired kid I saw walking down the street. But these are things you can do for your neighbors and community."

Donations to the Walter Denesha memorial fund may be made at Columbia banks.

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