Hanging inside Osana Futi’s room is a cap and gown. A cap and gown that signals a graduation that is 40 days away. A cap and gown that will never be worn.
The senior’s life was cut short by violence Saturday night after he succumbed to injuries early Sunday that he sustained during a fight that turned into in Fremont’s Blacow District on Saturday.
Hundreds gathered on Newark Memorial’s football field Monday night for who turned 18 on March 27 and embraced one another while candles were lit, songs were sung and memories were shared.
He Was My Son
Futi was looking forward to June 9, relatives and friends said. It would be the day he would walk the stage to graduate. It would be a time when he would be reunited with his mother, who lives in Samoa.
Since the age of 11, Futi has lived with his late father’s brother’s family. But while he was technically a nephew to her, his aunt and legal guardian Solialofi Ieremia said that she calls Futi her son.
“He’s been my son since I got him,” Ieremia said. “I had Osana for seven years … my heart breaks that he’s not here.”
Futi had high aspirations to pursue a football career, his family said. Ieremia said he had already begun spring football training with Chabot Community College’s team. She added that despite having been briefly expelled last year, Futi was bright student.
Ieremia said she’d like Futi to be remembered “as a loving kid, as a kid who loved to play football … as a good student … because that’s who he was.”
Paradise Is Where He Is
Futi was a loyal friend whose heart – and smile – was big, friends said.
While holding a candle in her hand, Newark Memorial alumna Dannie Rooffener shared how she will miss spoiling 18-year-old Futi by bringing him lunch and spending countless hours with him on the phone.
Rooffener, who was wearing a sweatshirt memorializing Futi, said that her friend's death has been surreal.
“It’s like I’m in a dream and I want to wake up,” Rooffener said.
But the now college student shared with other vigil attendees that “paradise is where you are.”
“And paradise is where he is,” she said.
A Contagious Laugh and Incredible Athlete
When Newark Memorial senior Saul Self remembers Futi, he said he will remember their everyday interactions.
“At school we’d be standing on the grass, and he’ll just say a little thing. Sometimes it wouldn’t even be funny, but we’d laugh,” said the 18-year-old. “His laugh makes other people laugh.
His chuckle, slight Samoan accent and caring attitude are the memories of Futi that Self said he'll reminisce on as he stood by photos, candles and flowers at a memorial for another slain teen, Justice Afoa, on Cedar Boulevard.
Justice, who was Futi’s best friend, was also. He was pronounced dead at the location of the killing on Cedar Boulevard near Birch Street in December 2010.
On Monday, crowds gathered at the sidewalk memorial, which now includes memorabilia of Futi
But Self and Futi were not only friends. They were teammates on Newark Memorial’s varsity football team. Both played as fullbacks.
“He was great at football, at any sport really,” Self said. “He was an athlete.”
Ralph Meredith coaches the defensive line of the high school’s football team and has known Futi since he came to the United States. He remembered the star football player who has received MVAL titles, such as Defensive Player of the Year, as an “easy kid to coach.”
He said the high school’s football team members has been mourning Futi since the news of his killing surfaced over the weekend.
“A lot of them are hurting,” said Meredith, who added that he hopes Newark’s youth learns from the tragic event that stemmed from a house party.
“The kids thought Osana was bigger than life and now he's gone,” Meredith said. “You could be that tough guy, you could be on top of the world, and the next day you're gone. I think they realize that.”
A Heart of Gold
Longtime family friend Joseph Vanpool rang in 2012 with Futi and the Ieremia family. Although the two were in the same room when the clock struck midnight, Vanpool received a text from Futi.
“It said Happy New Year, Joey. I love you,” Vanpool recalled. “He was just that type of guy.”
Vanpool, who organized a bake sale held Monday night to raise funds for Futi’s funeral services, said Futi was a man who loved his family and friends wholeheartedly.
“He was great. He was there for anybody, any time,” he said.
So when Vanpool sat in Futi’s house Sunday and saw the soon-to-be graduate’s cap and gown hanging inside of a room, it hit him hard.
“He worked so hard to get there,” Vanpool said.
Last March, the Newark Unified School Board of Education voted to after it was reported that he allegedly threatened another student’s life after Justice's murder, according to numerous media reports.
But parents and school staff, protested Futi’s expulsion, noting that the teenager had been distraught over Justice's death and that the board’s decision seemed to be premature, said the high school's booster president Stacy Kelly.
“He really hit rock bottom when Justice died. It blows my mind [how he’s changed],” said Vanpool, who said the two had been inseparable.
Now that Futi is gone, Vanpool, too, said he’ll miss everything about Futi, from his laugh to his loving persona.
“His eyes would get so low, and he’d start off with a little giggle before that big laugh,” Vanpool said fondly about Futi's laugh. “He had a heart of gold and a smile that could brighten up any room.”
Relatives of Futi are working to raise funds for his memorial services. Those who would like to donate are asked to contact Stacy Kelly for the time being at firstname.lastname@example.org or 510-719-0333.
to see more photos, videos and read more comments from Monday's vigil. Check back on Newark Patch for a Patch video on the vigil for Osana Futi.