Ten years after a tragic car accident claimed the lives of her classmates, Megan Leland will donate a bench in their memory on the high school campus.
Most likely the two crabapple trees flowering in front of Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School hold little significance for the students rushing in and out of the building each day. They have junior prom, graduation, the summer, and the future on their minds.
Ten years ago, friends, family and classmates planted the trees in memory of high school juniors and best friends David Furino, 17, and Kevin H. Johnson, 16, who died in a devastating car accident on May 7, 2004. It was just four days after Mr. Furino’s 17th birthday and one week before their junior prom.
Megan Leland of West Tisbury remembers that day and her classmates. And with the support of the community, she has purchased a black granite bench that will be set in between the two trees. The bench will bear the inscription, “In loving memory of David Furino and Kevin H. Johnson, Class of 2005.”
The bench will be officially dedicated at 11 am, Saturday, May 10. The community is invited to a small service in memory of the boys followed by coffee and cookies in the high school cafeteria.
“The trees bloom in May, which is significant,” Ms. Leland said. “My friends, we had talked about the bench when we planted the trees, but we got older, and it fell by the wayside.”
With the ten-year anniversary on May 7 approaching, Ms. Leland took on the project. “My mom reminded me,” said Ms. Leland. “She told me, ‘you said you would do this,’ so I did.”
Ms. Leland contacted Easton Memorials of Easton. The cost was $1,600. She turned to the community for support via Facebook. On March 30, she created a page titled “Memorial bench for Kevin and David” at Gofundme.com and posted a message.
“May 7, 2014 marks the 10 year anniversary of the passing of our beloved friends Kevin Johnson & David Furino,” she wrote. “How time flies, I’m sure all of us can remember that night like it was yesterday. I thought it would be nice to do something in memoriam of the boys this year. We will donate a granite bench to put in the front of the high school in between the two trees that were planted there in 2004. The specifics: The bench is estimated to cost around $1,600 and can be done by the May 7th deadline. It will cost another $300 or so to get the bench over on the boat and installed correctly and permanently. Whatever money is raised above and beyond the goal will go towards a scholarship in their memory.
If there’s something we have all learned growing up on the Island, it’s that we have one of the strongest and most generous communities around, so I am positive we will raise the money needed to make this happen!”
Just 25 days later she posted another message. “Wow, overwhelmed with all the support!!! We have hit our goal in just over 24 hours, thanks to all the generous donations! Keep the love coming and we can have a nice scholarship in the boys’ name.”
The contributions flowed in small amounts. A total of 66 people over 26 days had contributed a total of $3,093 as of April 26. Enough to pay for shipping and to fund a scholarship gift.
On Monday, May 5, Ms. Leland added a third message on the GoFundMe page:
“Hi everyone!!! I just want to thank each and everyone of you for all of your support raising this money, this would not have been possible without all of your generous donations. Along with this bench, we will be awarding a student with a $1,000 scholarship in the boys’ names. We will be having the memorial service this upcoming Saturday May 10th in the front of the high school at 11 am. Following, all are welcome to gather in the school cafeteria where Mocha Mott’s has kindly offered to donate coffee & cookies for anyone who wishes to stick around to reminisce and catch up! Hope everyone can make it!!!”
David’s father and brother, Tom and Michael Furino of T. Furino Masonry in Edgartown, will pour the cement base.
“I’ve kinda been doing it on my own, but everyone’s been pitching in, helping where they can,” Ms. Leland said. “I’ve been in contact with Joe Schroeder, the high school track and cross-country coach, because Kevin did cross-country and Joe organizes the annual 5K for KJ. He recommended the gofundme site, since it takes a very small slice.”
The years have not been kind to the trees, which had begun to lean badly. Told of the situation and the upcoming ceremony, horticulture department head John Wojtkielo considered staking the trees but determined the correction would require a machine, which he did not have. When Mark Crossland of Oak Bluffs, owner of Crossland Landscape, was told Tuesday of the situation, despite a full spring schedule he responded immediately. “I’ll take care of this,” he said. “I’m happy to do it.”
David Furino was an honor roll student who enjoyed the high school’s construction technology program. One month before the accident, he had gone to Homestead, Florida, to help build houses for Habitat for Humanity.
Kevin Johnson was a member of the high school cross-country and junior varsity basketball teams. He was also a member of the National Honor Society.
The two popular high school juniors died when Mr. Furino lost control of the 1999 Ford Explorer he was driving on Atlantic Drive in Edgartown’s Katama section. Police reported the boys were not wearing seat belts.
Their deaths devastated their classmates and rippled through the Island community. It also prompted a bumper sticker campaign to promote seat belt use.
“One of my closest friends was going to prom with Kevin,” Ms. Leland said. “Kevin and I had become really close that April, during the school trip to Spain.”
Although she was in several classes with Kevin during high school, she was not as close with David. However, she feels that she came to know him through a newfound connection with his group of friends.
“Our class and our friends really came together after their deaths,” Ms. Leland said. “It was amazing how the Class of 2005 graduated as one because of them.”
In the aftermath, the Furinos and Johnsons produced bumper stickers they gave away free before prom and graduation that read, “Buckle up for K.J. and Deebo.” They continue to be displayed on cars all over the Island, a reminder that seat belts do save lives.
Ms. Leland went on to acquire a masters degree in occupational therapy after a five-year program at the University of New Hampshire. The past few years she has worked with her mother running the catering company Vineyard Haute Cuisine.
“We are very touched and so moved that Meg decided to do this,” said David’s mother, Barbara Furino, in a telephone conversation with The Times. “It was her idea, I think she did this all her own, and I’m blown away by all of Kevin and David’s friends who have donated.”
Ms. Leland did not tell Ms. Furino about the project beforehand. “We found out via Facebook,” said Ms. Furino. “I saw it, clicked on it, and I was so amazed. It was just the most wonderful thing. It’s all the kids, and their memories. It’s very special.”