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Forest Grove mourns teen killed in shooting

DA will present manslaughter case against Cody Ward
by: Chase Allgood Dozens of youngsters gathered at Forest Grove’s Thatcher Park Monday afternoon to mourn the loss of TJ Lester, who died Saturday from a gunshot blast. Samantha Parrish-Irvine, whose daughter Shelby Parrish knew TJ, organized the event and distributed flyers about the stages of grief to the middle- and high-school students who attended.

To his friends, TJ Lester was a funny kid with an artistic streak. Nearly every interaction with TJ was a story. Maybe it was the way he showed a classmate how to make a paper airplane. Or the time he swapped lunches with another.

Over the weekend, those stories of TJ's generosity were on the minds of his friends and family as they grappled with the news that Lester was killed in an accidental shooting Saturday.

Forest Grove Police still don't know exactly how Lester wound up dead, but they believe Cody Ward, 18, and a friend of Lester's, fired a short-barreled shotgun at Lester, killing him instantly.

Ward is in custody at the Washington County Jail on charges of manslaughter and unlawful possession of the 'sawed-off' shotgun. A grand jury will convene to determine what charges the Washington County District Attorney's office pursues.

But on Monday, Lester's friends and acquaintances gathered at Forest Grove's Thatcher Park to share stories and try to cope with the loss of their friend Trenton Joseph Lester, only 15 when he died.

'It's really, really difficult to wrap your mind around that you could lose your child at

any time,' said Samantha Parrish-Irvine, who organized the vigil. Parrish-Irvine's daughter, Shelby Parrish, met Lester in

grade at Neil Armstrong Middle School.

Immediately Shelby brought stories about TJ home to her mom, Parrish-Irvine said.

'He loved equally. He had so many friends across the board,' Parrish-Irvine said.

The broad impact that Lester made on kids from all walks of life was apparent at the vigil, where Parrish-Irvine handed out flyers describing the stages of grief to about 75 of Lester's friends, their ages as varied as their clothing.

"He wasn't a clique-type of kid," said Parrish-Irvine.

Ward called 9-1-1

Around 5:30 p.m. Saturday night, Cody Ward called 9-1-1 to report his friend had been shot. A second call came shortly afterward, made by a neighbor who overheard the shot.

Forest Grove Police Capt. Mike Herb said their investigation indicates Ward and Lester were hanging out with Ward's girlfriend, 14-year-old Rachel Eisfeld on the back patio of a home on the 1600 block of Poplar Place, owned by Ward's father.

Ward and Lester were passing a shotgun back and forth and at some point, Ward pointed the gun at Lester and it discharged. The blast killed Lester before police arrived at the scene.

Eisfeld was also wounded, suffering a laceration to her head. Herb said investigators believe she was struck by a piece of debris kicked into the air by the blast, not errant shot from the gun.

Initially, police took Ward into custody and charged him with Criminally Negligent Homicide. But on Monday, those charges were upgraded by the Washington County District Attorney's office to Manslaughter in the first degree, and unlawful possession of a short-barreled shotgun.

Eisfeld told The Oregonian Monday that the shooting was an accident, a sentiment echoed by Lester and Ward's friends on Facebook.

School district offers help

Chandra Cooper, principal of Tom McCall Upper Elementary School - where TJ's mother, Lori Lester, teaches - said staffers were coordinating meals and supplies to help the Lester family.

The school's Crisis Response Team is "ready to provide support" to any student or staff member who needs it.

"Oftentimes when there are tragedies such as this," Cooper noted, "it can bring up past situations for kids that cause them anxiety or trauma." The CRT is trained to deal with that.

At Forest Grove High School, staffers have set up a "safe room" where students can come and talk to a counselor about the shooting and TJ's death.

"There's been a small stream of kids coming down and staying here for a while," Duane Anderson, chair of the counseling department at Forest Grove High School said on Monday.

"It's just sad all the way around … the family has four other kids in the district," Anderson said. "The news is hard to take. You could just feel it ripple through the whole community."

A memory of caring

In a statement from the Lester family sent Monday by Lori Lester, TJ's love of life and his contribution to his friends dominated the heartbroken sentiments of loss.

'TJ was kindhearted, often asking us to help a friend in need. TJ was smart, creative, artistic, imaginative, funny, sweet-hearted, caring, giving, energetic and his own individual person,' Lester wrote.

'He accepted others for who they were and just wanted the same respect from others. TJ taught us to look at the person, not the outside appearance,' Lester wrote. 'Our TJ was an incredible human being who left us too soon.'