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Community comes together to remember kind, quiet teen

Ryan Dean Tarkington Jr., who was found dead Sept. 16, is laid to rest after an emotional funeral
by: Nancy Townsley,

Four days after what would have been his sixteenth birthday, the family and friends of Ryan Dean Tarkington Jr. remembered him as a kind, compassionate person who always had a smile for everyone.

The Forest Grove High School sophomore was found dead in his parents' bedroom Sept. 16 of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head.

During a 45-minute service at Fir Lawn Mortuary in Hillsboro last Friday morning, Ryan was eulogized as a quiet, helpful young man who loved country music and cowboy movies.

'The word that best describes Ryan and his character is 'kindness,'' said Pastor Bob Fletcher of Dilley Bible Church, where the teen's parents, Ryan Sr. and Vicky, were married in 1985. 'You saw Ryan express the kindness of God. Let that change your life for the better.

'When you think of Ryan, don't just think of this horrible accident, but who he was and what he meant to you,' Fletcher admonished.

Written tributes, penned by Ryan's classmates, decorated the mortuary's foyer. 'Met you as a stranger, took you as a friend, hope we meet in heaven, where friendships never end,' read one.

Sprays of autumn flowers surrounded his sister, Amanda, as she read a poem entitled 'Baby Brother' to the overflow crowd, which included dozens of teenagers who took time off from school to pay their respects.

'For everything you did for me, Ryan, I love you, I miss you - and I hope you rest in peace forever,' she said.

Nicknamed 'Bo-Deanie' as a child, Ryan Jr., 15, enjoyed hunting, bull riding and going on outings with his family. At his funeral, a tan western saddle straddled his casket and a white cowboy hat hung nearby.

Fletcher read a tribute by Ryan's mother, Vicky.

'Ryan had the biggest heart in the world,' she wrote. 'He brought so much joy and comfort to those he came in contact with. For that he will always be remembered and missed.'

A video presentation, set to the song 'When I Get Where I'm Going' by country artists Brad Paisley and Dolly Parton, showed dozens of pictures of Ryan as a smiling baby, a precocious child and a teenager with a wide, friendly grin.

'We're all kind of wondering why,' Fletcher said. 'It's so untimely. If I were God, I'd have said, 'no - it's not Ryan's time. He's only 15.

'The brokenness and sorrow we feel inside our hearts will keep us asking 'why' for a good, long time.'

Bruce Hess, Ryan's uncle and one of the pallbearers, described his nephew as 'just a happy kid' who liked to hang out with his friends and family.

'He was into rodeo - he competed all over, in Bend and at the coast,' said Hess, whose son Sam also attends FGHS. 'He won a belt buckle for his bull riding.'

Hess, along with Ryan Sr., Amanda and three others, bore Ryan Jr.'s coffin to a waiting horse-drawn carriage after the service. A large group of mourners walked behind the hearse to the burial site, atop a small hill in Fir Lawn Cemetery.

After a few more words from Fletcher, Ryan was laid to rest near his maternal grandmother.

Forest Grove Principal John O'Neill said students had streamed into the high school counseling office all week after learning of Ryan's death, seeking information and comfort.

'We read a notice to students on Tuesday about Ryan's passing,' said O'Neill, adding that a moment of silence in his honor was offered during morning announcements Sept. 19.

Counselors were kept busy helping teens process their grief and confusion. 'I think the students, especially the ones who knew Ryan well, are very saddened,' O'Neill noted.

Ryan, who had just begun his second year at FGHS, was 'a great young man and a good student,' O'Neill said. 'He will be missed.'

Superintendent Jack Musser got to know Ryan three years ago, when the two served on a committee charged with developing eighth-grade promotion standards for the local school district.

At the time, Ryan was an eighth-grader at Neil Armstrong Middle School.

'He was an outstanding young man, very helpful and enthusiastic,' Musser said. 'He was also very friendly.

'I have tremendous empathy for the Tarkingtons,' he added. 'We're concentrating on respecting the privacy of the family and honoring the memory of Ryan.'