Back in early December, the much-hyped boys basketball team of Marysville-Pilchuck high school (M-P) were in the midst of early season struggles after starting their 2018-2019 campaign with a disappointing (1-3) record. Incredibly, the bumpy start has been all but forgotten as the Tomahawks responded by winning their next 19 games in a row.
Led by Tulalip tribal member RaeQuan Battle, a 6’4 shooting guard and fourth best Washington State recruit*, the Tomahawks strong finish to the regular season proved the pre-season hype was legit. Their 19-game win streak included domination over their league foes when they stampeded through the 3A District Tournament (beating Shorecrest 64-42, Stanwood 80-50 and Arlington 65-47) en route to claiming back-to-back District Championships.
After dispatching Kelso 72-51 at Regionals, Marysville-Pilchuck earned the #4 seed for the WIAA Hardwood Classic, Washington State’s Championship Tournament. The annual tournament took place February 27 – March 2 at the Tacoma Dome.
A hard fought battle with O’Dea in their opening round resulted in a 53-63 loss, the team’s first since December 10. In that game O’Dea attempted 26 free-throws compared to just 9 attempts for M-P. RaeQuan’s stat line of 24 points, 9 rebounds and 3 blocks proved he did everything possible to keep his team in the game
The Tomahawks had no choice but to shake off the loss quickly with a matchup against Ingraham only hours away. M-P went up 36-31 at halftime, continued to build on their lead in the 2nd half, and won 80-68. RaeQuan double-doubled in the game, finishing with 19 points and 10 rebounds. Fellow Tulalip tribal member and high school junior Alec Jones-Smith received quality minutes down the stretch while chipping in 5 points.
Fourth place was on the line when M-P took on Kelso in the waking moments of March 2. In a tightly contested matchup, the Tomahawks jumped out to an early 16-9 lead in the 1st quarter. However, Kelso battled back by running play after play through their talented 6’6 center Shaw Anderson. Having no one on the roster capable of guarding the Kelso big man straight up, M-P trailed 26-31 late in the 2nd quarter.
Aggressive, fast-faced Tomahawk basketball ensued in the 3rd and 4th quarter. RaeQuan showcased his 3-point shooting touch by knocking down five long-range buckets and managed to block Kelso’s center for a huge defensive play to fire up his squad. After going up 50-38, the boys wouldn’t look back and claimed a decisive 71-60 victory.
The 4th place finish at State marks the best ever showing for a Marysville-Pilchuck team.
“I’m so proud. This is a special group,” said M-P Coach Bary Gould postgame. “They played for the love [of the game] and made history. So much of what we do hinges on RaeQuan and when he lets the game come to him, he is incredible…he’s such a difference maker. The surrounding pieces all stepped up in a big way to put us over the edge.”
“Our journey to State was a total team effort and showed our mental toughness,” added RaeQuan. During the State Tournament, when competition is at its highest, he averaged a whopping 23 points, 9 rebounds and 2 blocks per game while leading his team to the history books.
“I was ready and prepared to play against this level of competition thanks in part to playing on the Nike AAU circuit last spring and summer,” explained RaeQuan. The four-star recruit has committed to the University of Washington. “Hard work really does pay off. Looking forward, my goals are to keep getting stronger over the summer to prepare myself for the college level.”
A huge congratulations to the M-P team on their history-making efforts, especially their trio of Tulalip hoopers: senior RaeQuan Battle, junior Alec Jones-Smith and junior TJ Severn.
Ten elementary students from the Marysville School District were selected to compete in a culinary competition on Thursday March 22, at the Marysville Pilchuck High School food commons. The young chefs, wearing aprons and tall chef hats, prepared Asian-inspired fusion dishes for a panel of guest judges. The future chef competition is held in school districts across the nation by Sodexo, a company that focuses on providing quality of life services to local communities, which include nutrition and health care. Among the ten students competing in the contest was Quil Ceda Tulalip Elementary student and Tulalip tribal member Mone’t Clemens, who just turned ten years old a day prior to the competition.
“So I’m not just watching TV, I always ask my mom if I can help cook,” says Mone’t. “When I saw the flyer for the contest, I really wanted to sign up. I think the competition is wonderful, everybody is really nice and helpful. All the kids’ dishes are pretty and look delicious.”
The kitchen of MPHS was busy as the young chefs hustled about, cooking and plating their meals in sample cups for the judges. Outside, in the food commons, parents and family members were getting hungry as the smell of delicious food slowly seeped from the kitchen to the cafeteria.
“This is very exciting,” expressed Mone’t’s father, David Charley. “She always helps cook our dinners. About a year ago, she started asking her mom and was always told, ‘no, you’re too young’ but she kept pressing for her interest and here we are.”
“Today I prepared an Asian Peanut Noodle dish with chicken,” stated Mone’t as she happily described her recipe. “I chose this dish because I like peanut butter. My family and I are big peanut butter fans, so me and my mom thought it was the perfect dish to make.”
Once all the sample cups were prepared, the student chefs took their stations in the commons and anxiously waited for the judges to come by and try their recipes. Mone’t received many compliments such as ‘this has the perfect amount of spice’ and ‘very tasty’. One judge even opted to indulge in a second helping of the Asian Peanut Noodles. Once all meals were thoroughly taste-tested, the judges announced the winner of the 2018 Marysville School District-Sodexo Future Chef Competition, Joshua Earnheart of Grove Elementary.
Although Mone’t didn’t take first place, she isn’t letting that discourage her from her passion for cooking. After all, she was one of the only Future Chef’s in the competition with zero sample cups left after the judging was complete, which is saying a lot when in a room full of scrumptious food created by a group of young talented cooks.
“In the future, I see myself cooking for my family and preparing delicious dishes for my future kids and my mom when they come over for Thanksgiving. I think that if somebody really wants to learn how to cook, they should ask their parents, grandmas or guardians to help in the kitchen, because with your family is the best way to cook.”
When RaeQuan Battle was in the third grade he was recruited by Cyrus “Bubba” Hatch to play in a basketball tournament at Lummi. At the time, young RaeQuan hadn’t really given basketball much thought, because his favorite sport was football. RaeQuan accepted the invitation and not only did his team win the championship, but he was presented with the Most Valuable Player award, resulting in a new love for the game.
Now a sophomore at Marysville Pilchuck High School (MP), Battle devotes the majority of his time to perfecting his basketball skills and focusing on his grades. He advises young hoopers to put down their smart phones and pay attention during class because at the young age of fifteen, he is aware of the opportunities a good education can offer.
College will begin in a short couple of years for RaeQuan. This is something he is well-aware of and has already started thinking of where he would like to attend. He states, “I would want to play [college basketball] for Kentucky, but I’m looking [into] the University of Washington. A lot of my family members love UW, so that’s a school I would have to consider.”
Family is indeed of great importance to him, citing his grandfather, Hank Williams, as his biggest inspiration. Every time Battle suits up for a game, he puts on a jersey with the number twenty-one on display. He chose twenty-one because it is his mother’s favorite number. A few of his relatives also wore that number when playing for MP.
The basketball season for MP recently concluded with an appearance in the playoffs as RaeQuan’s squad battled for a shot at State. Standing at six-foot, four-inches Battle towers over most of his teammates as well as the competition. He is effective on both ends of the floor often getting buckets and grabbing boards. His favorite position to play is small forward, a position that is played by NBA stars such as Kevin Durant and Lebron James. His height advantage, paired with his skill, gives him the versatility to play any spot on the floor, and MP utilized him in every position throughout their season.
Battle states that basketball has given him a strong work ethic and has taught him many valuable lessons that he can apply on and off the court. “The biggest thing I’ve learned is how to stay humble. When I first started playing I used to get benched because I didn’t have the right attitude. If you want to improve your game or get anything productive accomplished, you have to remain humble and focused,” he states.
Now that the basketball season is over RaeQuan will participate in some extra-curricular activities including driver’s education and track, but the majority of his time will be spent studying. However, he vows to continue to get in the gym and work on his game during the off-season as he continues to follow his dream of playing in the NBA.
Many people often begin their new year optimistic, ready for change and a new beginning. For some that new beginning may be a change of scenery, proper financial budgeting, and perhaps the most popular, healthy eating and lifestyle habits. Marysville-Pilchuck High School (MPHS) students returned to school from winter break to a new cafeteria named the Food Commons. The cafeteria provides students the tools to accomplish their resolution goals as well as the promise of a better tomorrow.
In Spring of 2016, construction on the Food Commons began after the results of an online survey showing parents, faculty, and most importantly students of MPHS, felt the previous cafeteria was too emotionally straining for future use. In fact, for over two years students ate their lunches in classrooms and the school gym, leaving the cafeteria unused since the shooting in 2014.
“It feels like we are turning the page on a very difficult chapter and looking to the future. Our kids are so resilient, but it’s been an incredibly tough road for them. To have a new beginning in a new place, to push the restart button, is a great way for them to see that the community really does care. We’re hoping for this to be a celebration and a new beginning for our kids,” stated Marysville School District Superintendent, Dr. Becky Berg.
The 16,382 square-foot Food Commons was designed to highlight natural lighting and follows the Washington Sustainable Schools Protocol, using 15 percent less energy and 25 percent less water annually.
The $7.5 million cafeteria was funded by both Legislature and Washington State, and has many new features that students are undoubtedly excited about including a large lounge area, an ASB office, a DECA (finance and marketing) classroom, and the school store.
Students collaboratively chose the name of the store, the Oasis, because it’s a cool spot to grab a drink and refresh oneself. Students can purchase a variety of items at the Oasis including espresso, paninis, and frozen yogurt.
MPHS will host an open house for the community of Marysville and its surrounding areas during the Spring, once the students are comfortable and settled into the Food Commons. For more information on the Food Commons visit the Marysville School District’s website, www.msd25.org
On Tuesday, October 18, the Marysville-Pilchuck High School auditorium was home to Marysville School District’s first Education Town Hall. The panelists included Washington State Representative June Robinson, Marysville School Board President Peter Lundberg, and Tulalip tribal member, Senator John McCoy.
“Senator John McCoy and Representative June Robinson serve the communities of Everett, Marysville and Tulalip in Olympia during the State Legislative Session which starts every year in January,” states Dr. Becky Berg, Marysville School District Superintendent. “When they are not in Olympia, they also work tirelessly for our local communities in their day-jobs and by meeting and working with citizens to understand concerns and advocate new ideas.”
During the 90-minute Town Hall discussion the focus was all about education; from defining what basic education is, how to best educate MSD students, and how that education may be funded going forward. Senator McCoy took point on many of the discussion questions and, as is his style, didn’t hold back with his honest assessments and ideas on how to best equip MSD students with a quality education that yields productive citizens.
In your opinion, what is basic education?
“Because we have such a diver legislature, lots of different opinions, there are a lot of different ideas about what basic education is. You can say we are constantly defining basic education because each community across the state of Washington is a little bit unique in terms of their diversity and needs. For the students, their community determines what they need survive in that area. I’ve been preaching that you have to take it community by community, which means the school districts, and they have to decide the necessary skill sets of that community in order to survive. For every community, there is a focus and codes of language based on the resources in that area.
Here in the Everett/Marysville/Tulalip area we have Boeing, Fluke, and medical centers. These are technical companies, companies manufacturing aerospace parts, and a large contingent of the healthcare sector. So we have to figure out what needs to be in the skill sets of our students in order to take advantage of these local companies. That’s going to be a different skill set required than students in the Tri-City area, or the Bellevue area, or the Neah Bay area. Each community needs to work on what is required for them to survive and they should gear your education systems to those requirements.”
How do you propose to level the educational playing field?
“I’m watching out for that square peg trying to get into the round hole. No child walks through the door with the same information, even if they live in the same house. We have to get down to where they are, find out where they are, so that we can educate them. Now not every kid is going to be a STEM person (STEM is a curriculum based on science, technology, engineering and mathematics). That’s probably only 15-20% of students who are going to be STEM people, so why are we gearing everything to STEM? By doing that we are leaving 80% of our students behind when they could be trained up to be very productive citizens of the community.
Whenever I talk to kids I tell them ‘find that one thing that makes you want to get up in the morning and go do it’ because there will be some crazy guy like me who will pay you to do it. Be happy in your work. I think we’ve all seen people who are not happy in their work and their product showed it. Not everyone is going to be an engineer or become a programmer. So that’s what we have to do, we have to get our educators to where the kids are. I have the highest respect for every teacher in the system. I thank them every time I can. They have a hard job. They’re educating the people who are our future. We need to prepare them for everything.”
We seem to all agree that the State needs to meet its duty to fully fund education. In your opinion, where should the money come from?
“The fact remains we need to devise a system that will have everybody in the State participate, everybody. Not everybody is participating in the revenue process. Right now, because of our sales tax system, the middle class and low-income are carrying the burden of all taxes. The upper incomes are pretty much unscathed, so we need to devise a method that everybody participates.”
What do you see your individual role being during the 2017 State Legislative Session when it comes to the State’s mandate to fully fund education by 2018?
“Well, I’m not on any of the finance committees by design. In my prior life I did a lot of working with budgets and quite honestly I got tired of it. Now, I delve into just policy. But that does not relieve any legislator from their responsibility to do due diligence and fund education. We all have something at stake. We all have skin in the game to bring it home for all students in the state of Washington, all students. We need to work together, with one another in order to achieve this.
One thing the Supreme Court was quite clear on, and I agree with, is that salaries should be part of basic education. There will be lots of discussion and we need to solve that problem and move forward. We all have hard work to do and I think we’re up to it. We’re going to do the best job we can to fully fund education so all our kids down the road can become productive citizens.”
What is the one thing you’d like to see the State Legislator accomplish this session when it comes to K-12 education?
“I’ve been in the State Legislator for fourteen years and twelve of those fourteen I’ve dropped the bill to delink, and I will continue to do it. The last three years the Chair of the Senate Education Committee refused to allow that bill to come up, to not even be heard. I will submit another bill to clean them out again and see what happens.
I think the Education Committee ought to be disbanded for five years. Everybody thinks they’re an expert when it comes to education. The Legislator turns over 20% every two years and out of the group we get all these folks who think they have the magic fix. That’s why we have an unsettled education system because every two years a group comes in who wants this or that and everything remains unsettled. We have to stop, let things settle, and see the process work. In my opinion, we have a pretty good school system, but we keep messing with it. We need to stop that and allow current processes to work.”
In your opinion, what skills and capabilities do students need to be a productive citizen?
“That depends on the child. Autistic students can demonstrate great skill and be productive when they are educated at their level. They have skills that will help the community. Every child in the State of Washington has the capability to be a very strong citizen and be productive in this state. Like I said earlier, we have to find out where the student is at and teach them at their level.”
SEATTLE — The Tulalip man whose teenage son killed four students and himself at Marysville Pilchuck High School in 2014 was sentenced to two years in federal prison Monday.
Raymond Fryberg, 42, stood up in U.S. District Court and expressed sorrow over the violence his son wreaked using a handgun the elder Fryberg could not legally possess.
Fryberg told U.S. District Judge James Robart he wakes up every day with a broken heart and prays for the young lives lost.
“I am sorry for what my son did,” he said. “ … I don’t condone any of the things my son did. It’s a tragedy.”
A federal jury in September convicted Fryberg of six counts of illegal firearm possession. He was the subject of a 2002 domestic-violence protection order in Tulalip Tribal Court that forbade him from owning guns.
Assistant U.S. attorneys sought roughly three years in prison, the stiffest punishment under sentencing guidelines. Fryberg’s defense attorneys, however, argued the man and his family had suffered enough. They urged two years of probation, with no time behind bars.
An investigation after the Oct. 24, 2014, shootings found the elder Fryberg had repeatedly filled out federal forms while buying 10 different guns and never once answered truthfully that he was disqualified from making such purchases. The defendant’s son used his dad’s illegally acquired .40-caliber handgun to open fire in a high school cafeteria. Before taking his own life, the teen shot five of his friends and relatives. Only Nate Hatch, shot in the jaw, survived.
On Monday Nate’s mother, Denise Hatch, told the court that in the 15 months since the shootings Raymond Fryberg had never apologized, and that lack of apology had divided the community.
Fryberg told Judge Robart that he went to trial on the charges in hopes of preserving his right to own weapons necessary for hunting, which he said is integral to tribal culture.
Under federal sentencing guidelines, Fryberg faced a presumed punishment of between 27 and 33 months.
MARYSVILLE — A community event is planned for the one-year milestone of the shootings at Marysville Pilchuck High School.
The event, called A Walk of Strength, will start at 9 a.m. Oct. 24 and will include a walk around the campus. The plan includes inviting people to plant red and white tulip bulbs as they “come together and reflect,” according to a news release.
The details are being coordinated by the city, the school district and the Tulalip Tribes.
“An unimaginable event occurred in our community last year that changed lives forever,” schools Superintendent Becky Berg said in the release. “But it does not define us.”
The walk is meant to be a safe and supportive way to remember together, Mayor Jon Nehring said. Tribal Chairman Mel Sheldon described each step as a symbol for healing and moving forward.
T-shirts with the logo and “#MPstronger” branding are expected to go on sale at www.mpmemorial.org.
Oct. 24 will mark one year since a freshman at Marysville Pilchuck High School invited a group of friends to sit together in the main cafeteria. He shot five of them, four of whom were fatally wounded. He then took his own life.
The father of the teen who killed four classmates at Marysville-Pilchuck High School last fall was convicted Tuesday of illegally possessing a half-dozen firearms, including the one his son used in the shooting.
Raymond Lee Fryberg Jr. was convicted of six counts of unlawful possession of a firearm. One of the firearms, a .40-caliber Beretta pistol, was used by 15-year-old Jaylen Fryberg to kill four classmates and wound a fifth. Jaylen then killed himself with the same handgun.
The federal jury deliberated for about a day after a three-day trial before U.S. District Judge James Robart.
The senior Fryberg appeared stunned by the verdict. He had tears on his cheeks as he huddled with his attorneys and family after the verdict was read.
Fryberg will remain free until sentencing, which is scheduled for Jan. 11. He faces up to 10 years in prison for each count.
Family members of some of the shooting victims sat behind the prosecutors when the verdict was read. They declined to comment as they walked in silence into an elevator on the 14th floor of the U.S. District Courthouse. After the doors slid shut, however, ebullient yells and whoops could be heard.
Fryberg’s Seattle attorney, John Henry Browne, said the criminal charges were retaliation for the school killings and had been “pushed by the families” of the victims.
While the school shooting was never mentioned during the trial, Browne said it hung over the proceedings like a pall.
“It was difficult to stay on task,” he said outside the federal courthouse.
While the sole issue was whether Fryberg knew he was barred from owning firearms, Browne said, prosecutors began their closing arguments Monday with a slideshow of the six firearms Fryberg had purchased, including the handgun used by his son.
“This was clearly piling on by the government,” said Browne, who intends to appeal the verdict.
A grand jury had alleged the senior Fryberg, a member of the Tulalip Tribes, purchased a number of firearms despite being the subject of a tribal domestic-violence protective order that had been issued in 2002. Fryberg, 42, pleaded no contest in tribal court to violating the order in 2012, according to federal prosecutors.
The government says that should have prevented him from purchasing firearms, but that flaws in the instant-background-check system allowed him to “slip under the screen” of several law-enforcement databases.
Prosecutors claimed Fryberg lied when he filled out firearms-purchase forms on which he declared, under penalty of perjury, that he had not been convicted of a domestic-violence crime.
During the trial’s closing arguments, Browne accused the government of appealing to the jury’s emotions by showing photographs of each of the six firearms — including the handgun used in the school shootings and two assault-style semi-automatic rifles — that Fryberg had purchased at the Cabela’s store in Tulalip after 2012.
Fryberg, Browne said, assumed the purchases were legal and pointed out that he was even able to obtain a concealed-carry permit for a handgun, which requires a more stringent background check than purchasing a firearm. Browne said Fryberg was never properly served with the protection order, and that there were questions about whether the order was ever filed with the court.
The police officer who was supposed to file it — who was the brother-in-law of Fryberg’s ex-girlfriend, who had sought the order — is dead.
Fryberg claimed he was never given a copy of the order and did not know it existed, despite his no-contest plea in 2012.
“He is not on trial for anything else,” Browne said. “Not for how many guns he owns,” or what they may have been used for. The government, he claimed, “is trying to turn this case into something it is not.”
Assistant U.S. Attorney Ye-Ting Woo said the issue was not whether Fryberg was able to purchase the guns because of “gaps in the system,” including the fact that tribal-court domestic-violence protective orders and convictions often are not entered into national databases.
“The system relies on the purchasers to tell the truth,” she said.
The investigation into Fryberg’s gun ownership began in October 2014, when the FBI was trying to determine ownership of the gun that was used in the school shootings. The senior Fryberg had purchased that gun from Cabela’s in January 2013, a year after a permanent protective order against him had been filed in Tulalip Tribal Court, prosecutors said.
A search warrant filed in U.S. District Court stated that agents found several firearms lying unsecured in the home.
A 1,400-page report detailing the investigation into the school shooting said Jaylen Fryberg apparently brought the handgun to school in a backpack. He texted several friends to meet him in the lunchroom that day, Oct. 24, and also sent a text to his father and other family members detailing his funeral plans.
Minutes later in the cafeteria, Jaylen Fryberg pulled out the Beretta handgun from the backpack and shot five classmates, killing Zoe Galasso, Gia Soriano and Shaylee Chuckulnaskit, all 14, and Andrew Fryberg, 15. All were shot in the head.
Nate Hatch, 15, was shot in the jaw and spent about two weeks in Seattle’s Harborview Medical Center.
The report indicates that Fryberg was angry over a breakup with a girlfriend, as well as a fight he had with a fellow student in the days before the shooting.
However, the team of investigators said it could not determine a definitive reason for the shooting.
The father of a Washington state high school student who killed four classmates and himself last fall was arrested Tuesday on a federal charge that he was barred from possessing the gun his son used in the shooting.
Raymond Lee Fryberg Jr., 42, faces one count of unlawful possession of a firearm by a prohibited person. An FBI agent alleged in a criminal complaint that even though Fryberg was subject to a domestic violence protection order, he purchased five guns from a Cabela’s outdoor recreation store, including the Beretta pistol his son used in the shooting, by lying on a federal form.
Jaylen Fryberg, 15, a well-liked freshman who had recently been a Homecoming prince, inexplicably shot and killed four friends and wounded another last October after inviting them to lunch in the cafeteria at Marysville-Pilchuck High School north of Seattle.
“Our office has a long history of working with our federal, state, local and tribal law enforcement partners across Western Washington to prosecute those who illegally possess firearms,” Annette Hayes, the acting U.S. attorney in Seattle, said in a news release. “This case is part of that effort and a reminder that we are united in our commitment to get firearms out of the hands of those who pose the greatest risk to our communities.”
Fryberg was due to appear in U.S. District Court on Tuesday afternoon. Federal court records did not indicate whether he had a lawyer.
According to the complaint, Fryberg’s then-girlfriend, the mother of one of his children, obtained a protection order against him in Tulalip Tribal Court in 2002, alleging that he had threatened her, slapped her and pulled her hair.
The order became permanent, and in September 2012, Fryberg entered a no-contest plea to a charge that he violated it. He was given a suspended sentence of six months and ordered again to comply with the terms of the order.
Just four months later, Fryberg went to a Cabela’s store on the Tulalip reservation and purchased the Beretta, the complaint said. He answered “no” on a federal form asking if he was subject to a court order restraining him from harassing, stalking or threatening a child or intimate partner, and he answered the same when he filled out forms for the purchase of four other weapons at the store between January 2013 and July 2014, the complaint said.
State Sen. John McCoy, a member of the Tulalip Tribe, said he didn’t know Fryberg had been subject to a restraining order.
“That’s exceptionally troublesome to me,” McCoy said. “It points me to the issue we’ve been arguing about in the state, that people are not going to tell the truth when they fill out the forms to buy a gun, so maybe we should have a registry of people who are subject to these orders. That’ll be more fodder for discussion.”
EVERETT — This Tuesday would have been Gia Soriano’s 15th birthday.
Her name should be on a learner’s permit. Instead, it’s on a memorial park bench.
Gia Christine Soriano was among the four students fatally shot by a classmate in the Marysville Pilchuck High School cafeteria on Oct. 24. She died two days later.
A bench was recently installed in her honor in Everett’s Legion Memorial Park, overlooking Port Gardner Bay.
It’s a place where her family, her friends and the community can come to remember the sweet girl with the radiant smile.
An intimate birthday gathering is planned March 31 at the bench, which sits about 100 feet from Gia’s paternal grandparents’ home bordering the park.
“When Gia died, I thought right away we are going to get a bench,” said grandmother Elaine Soriano, who led the project. “I know how much people enjoy coming for the view. I wanted it to be close to my house, so when I get old I can still get to the bench.”
She ordered the bench from Everett Parks and Recreation Department and paid the $3,500 herself. Donations reimbursed her the cost.
Many of Gia’s close relatives live in Everett, where the family has strong ties.
“I drive by here all the time on my way to work,” said Gia’s father, Bryan Soriano, a longshoreman like his father. “At first it was hard that it was here. You show up and it’s real. It just reminds you. Just like going to the cemetery is hard, too. It’s still fresh.”
Embedded in the concrete base of the bench is a tiny silver angel. A plaque has an inscription with Gia’s initials framing the sentence: “God’s Incredible Angel.”
The bench is a bittersweet monument.
“It gives some solid ground to how we’re feeling,” said Gia’s mother, Susan Soriano. “It’s a statement and it’s here for life, where she isn’t.”
The park is a calm spot with a backdrop of sparkling waves and multicolored skies.
“A soft-spoken place for a soft-spoken girl,” her mom said. “Because that’s what she was, so I think it’s perfect.”
The bench looks festive, with big shiny bows and colorful flowers.
It contrasts with the aching void that family members face trying to cope with the loss of Gia and the violent way her life was taken from them.
“Everything is different now,” said Gia’s mom.
“Everything is hard,” said Gia’s aunt, Gay Soriano. “I was registering my son Titan for high school the other day and I just started bawling in a room full of people. You can’t get it out of your head. It’s turned everything and everybody upside down.”
“It ruined our family,” said Gay’s daughter, 11-year-old Gabby, who idolized Gia. “It made a gap and it did that to the other families, too. It makes me really angry and mad and sad.”
Gabby sees a grief counselor and speaks openly about her anguish and anger.
“The boys, on the other hand, I worry about,” Gay Soriano said. “Boys don’t say much. They’re thinking about it. They just don’t verbalize it like Gabby.”
After the photo session on the bench, Titan and Gia’s brother, Anthony, 11, raced around the park and climbed a tree.
Gabby soon joined them, wearing Gia’s gray “PINK” sweatshirt.
Gia’s gravesite is in Evergreen Cemetery.
“My daughter and I go to the cemetery a lot,” Gay Soriano said. “This is a better place for people in the community and her friends from school to gather and remember her. It’s more of a grounding place. Where it’s located and how the sun sets on it every day is kind of a special thing.”
Elaine Soriano and her husband, John, a retired longshoreman, moved to the house adjacent to the park 25 years ago. They wanted a place for the generations to gather. It didn’t get better than having a park right outside the door to play and picnic.
Gia’s dad, Bryan, is the youngest of the couple’s six children. All graduated from Everett High School, as did Elaine and John.
“Giovanni” is John’s birth name, but he got it legally changed when he was 12 for something less Italian and more mainstream.
“All the kids think Giovanni was a neat great name,” Elaine Soriano said. “So Gia was going to be Giovanni if she was a boy.”
There are other memorial benches in the park, but Gia’s is closest to their home.
The grandmother picked the spot. “We’d have leaf fights and walk through the puddles over there, and just run around,” she said. “We had so much fun.”
Elaine Soriano laments it was supposed to be her name on the bench, not her granddaughter’s. “I always told my children I would like a bench in the park,” she said.
The park bench helps her carry on. “Gia would say, ‘Ohhh, this is neat.’”
It’s in plain view from her living room. She keeps tabs on who’s visiting the bench and freshens the flowers. When she’s not home, an angel statue faces out the window to keep watch.
“I’m going to get a little cute mailbox and let people leave a note for Anthony. Or Grandma Elaine,” she said. “A metal mailbox to hang on the side of the bench. I guess I have to ask the parks department first. I’ll tell them I’ll just tie it on with ribbon.”
The house is a shrine to Gia, with pillows and ribbons in purple, the teen’s favorite color, and numerous photos of her stages of life. A favorite is of Gia in her dress at the homecoming dance days before the shooting.
“We have 15 grandchildren,” Elaine Soriano said.
She includes Gia in the count.
Gia’s childhood drawings and Baptismal dress hang along the hallway. She is ever-present.
The park bench on Alverson Boulevard is about a mile from Providence Regional Medical Center Everett where Gia was rushed after the shooting that ended hers and the other young lives at the lunch table that day. Zoe Galasso, 14, Andrew Fryberg, 15, and Shaylee Chuckulnaskit, 14, also died, as did the shooter, 15-year-old Jaylen Fryberg, who killed himself. Nate Hatch, 15, is the only survivor. All the victims were shot in the head.
“There was nothing they could do. We knew that from day one. They gave it to us straight up,” Gia’s father said.
During their bedside vigil at Providence, her mother showed Everett neurosurgeon Dr. Sanford Wright Gia’s school homecoming photo.
“I wanted him to see what she looked like,” she said, “because she looked so different in the hospital.”
The parents praise the medical team.
“We couldn’t have been in a better place. I’m glad we didn’t end up down in Seattle,” Bryan Soriano said.
“The reason we kept her alive for a few more days was for her organs. We’re glad we donated the organs because we got a letter that was just beautiful. It told us where all her organs went. It didn’t say who, their names, it just said their gender and age and what they received. Her liver. Her kidney. Her lungs. A 10-year-old got her corneas, so he can see now.
“They couldn’t use her heart. That would have been the best thing to give somebody, was her heart.”
A scholarship at Everett High School has been established in memory of Gia Soriano and Zoe Galasso, two students killed Oct. 24 in the Marysville Pilchuck High School shootings.
The Friends of Peace Scholarship was created by friends and former teachers in honor of the students’ parents, Bryan and Susan Soriano and Michael and Michelle Galasso. The Sorianos and Michelle Galasso are alumni of Everett High.
The scholarship will be granted to an Everett High graduating senior who has overcome a traumatic life experience and who is interested in pursuing more education after high school.
The scholarship will be managed by the Everett Public Schools Foundations. Donations may be sent to Everett Public Schools Foundation, P.O. Box 3112, Everett, WA 98213 or online at epsfoundation.org, referencing the Friends of Peace Scholarship.