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Community celebrates Paul Lee's caring, vibrant spirit

Hundreds gather to pay tribute to Westview graduate who was fatally shot in Seattle


by: TIMES PHOTO: JOHN LARIVIERE - A Lee family photo was among the memorabilia on display the lobby of the Beaverton Village Baptist Church, where a memorial service for Paul Lee was held on Sunday.When Young Phan heard a student was killed in a shooting on the Seattle Pacific University campus, he thought only fleetingly of his friend Paul Lee, a fellow Westview High School graduate.

"You have to think about the odds of it being the person you know — they're extremely small," Phan said Sunday after a memorial service for Lee. "I didn't hear about it until I was on Facebook. My heart just sank."

Phan was among hundreds of friends, family members and classmates who gathered on Sunday afternoon to celebrate Lee's short but spirited life at Village Baptist Church on Southwest Murray Boulevard. The memorial service for the Seattle Pacific freshman, combined references to Lee's religious faith with plenty of humor, heartfelt stories, music — and even a dance routine to a Michael Jackson song.

The 19-year-old Lee, who grew up in the Bethany area and graduated from Westview in 2013, was killed in the June 5 shooting in Seattle in which two others were wounded. Aaron Ybarra, 26, the alleged gunman in the incident, was arrested and faces murder and assault charges. Authorities said he's suffered from mental and emotional problems.

Following a prayer from Village Baptist Pastor Sooyoung Lee and Pastor Dean Christensen's piano-and-voice performance of "Wonderful Peace," Albert Lee spoke from the heart about the sudden loss of his younger brother.

The tragedy made him question his belief that God has a plan and "everything happens for a reason."

"Why did my parents move from Korea to this country to have this happen to their son?" Albert asked.

The overwhelming outpouring of love and compassion he and his family members felt, however, reminded him that "God had bigger plans."

Along with others who spoke about Paul attested, Albert remembered his brother as always smiling, laughing and dancing — and acutely in tune with what others around him were dealing with.

He said he'd never met "a more genuine, loving, compassionate human being in my life. Paul is the type of person to not only look on your plate to see if you had enough. He would share if you didn't and gladly finish off all the leftovers.by: TIMES PHOTO: JOHN LARIVIERE - Albert Lee, older brother of Paul Lee, who was slain by a gunman at Seattle Pacific University on Sunday, shares memories of Paul during the memorial service.

"He had no shame in showing all the love he had," Albert added. "Paul had a heart that is meant to give."

Seattle Pacific President Dr. Dan Martin relayed tales from faculty members, who described Lee as highly curious, inquisitive, amiable and irrepressibly laid back.

One friend said, "'Paul put the 'glee' in Lee,'" Martin said.

Wandering in "usually late" with coffee in hand, Lee would saunter down in the front row. He would frequently linger after class to pick his professor's brain on a range of topics.

"He was an eager learner," Martin shared. "He had a sharp curiosity and intelligence, and he longed to understand the complexities of life, faith, relationships, racism, community and much more."

Martin spoke of the newly launched Paul Lee Foundation, a nonprofit group the family hopes will raise awareness and resources for students and others struggling with mental health problems. (see accompanying story)

"We feel Paul's absence from our campus so acutely," Martin said. "And yet his legacy and impact will live on in so many ways.

In reflecting on Paul, one faculty member said, "'I've been changed,'" Martin shared, his voice cracking with emotion. "'After this event, I vow to love each of my students with a new intensity, with a remembrance of how precious life is. I will miss Paul so much.'"

In the Village Baptist lobby, a board was covered in colorful notes with messages to Lee and his family members, while flowers and wreaths lined the sanctuary stage.

In the midst of the heartfelt remembrances, Ronald Comoda, a former Westview High classmate of Lee's contributed a dose of levity as his words morphed into a freestyle dance performance to a recording of Michael Jackson's "Love Never Felt So Good."

"This is more of a celebration than it is grieving," Comoda said.

Brian Bangerter, Lee's Japanese teacher at Westview, called Lee "always a spark plug in class, someone people wanted to seek advice from. He was 'Uncle Paul.' Losing Paul is definitely a tragedy, but it doesn't have to be a tragedy if good can come from it."

At a reception after the service, Jason Nguyen, who knew Lee since they both attended Bethany Elementary School, said they frequently hung out "before, during and after school."

"You always had to smile around him," Nguyen said, noting Lee never needed an invitation to dance. "He would voluntarily start dancing. He doesn't care what anybody thinks."

Young Phan, who graduated from Westview two years before Lee, said it's fitting a foundation is being established in his friend's name to learn more about the causes of such tragedies.

by: TIMES PHOTO: JOHN LARIVIERE - A slideshow presentation depicting the life of Paul Lee, a 2013 Westview High School graduate, plays during a memorial service on Sunday at Village Baptist Church on Murray Boulevard. "It's a great way of giving back to the community," Phong said. "After experiencing the pain of losing someone you love, I want no one to have to experience the same pain."



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