Memories mingled with tears at bench dedication for K.J. and Deebo

Classmates, friends and family gathered Saturday to dedicate a granite bench in their memory.

The boys' parents at Saturday's gathering: Kevin Johnson, Barbara Furino, Ann Johnson, and Tom Furino (left to right). — Nathaniel Horwitz

A black granite bench that bears the inscription, “In loving memory of David D. Furino & Kevin H. Johnson II, Class of 2005,” now rests between two crabapple trees that flower silently each May in front of Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School.

Friends, family, and classmates gathered Saturday morning, May 10, to dedicate the bench and remember the two boys, best friends killed in a devastating car accident on May 7, 2004, just days before their prom. Kevin was 16. David had turned 17 just four days before the accident. The two crabapple trees were planted shortly after in memory of the high school juniors.

Megan Leland of West Tisbury, a classmate of David and Kevin, spearheaded the community fundraising effort to purchase and dedicate the bench via Facebook and the fundraising website GoFundMe. She quickly raised double the $1,600 needed, enough for two $750 scholarships for the Class of 2014.

Friday afternoon David’s father, Tom Furino, and brother, Michael Furino, of T. Furino Masonry poured the cement and placed the bench. “We’re not supposed to touch it for 24 hours,” someone remarked before the service. “So no one go dancing on it.”

More than 60 people gathered between the flowering crabapple trees beneath cloudy skies on Saturday morning. A light breeze blew.

“This really finishes off what we started 10 years ago,” retired High School principal Margaret (Peg) Regan said in brief remarks. “I think it’s beautiful, exactly what was needed to finish the whole project.”

Ms. Regan spoke about the legacy of David and Kevin, the effort to promote seatbelt use, readily seen around the Island in the form of the ubiquitous “Buckle Up for K.J. and Deebo” bumper stickers.

The Martha’s Vineyard Drive For Life, a nonprofit founded by Tom and Barbara Furino, also resulted in the reinstatement of the school’s driver education program in 2008 and the purchase of a driving simulator for classroom use.

“These are more than just two kids who died 10 years ago,” said Ms. Regan, “and it’s a wonderful thing for us to get together this last time.”

Tom Furino thanked the the school and landscaper Mark Crossland, who learned the trees were crooked and fixed them right away. Pointing at a fresh patch of mulch on a nearby flowerbed Mr. Furino said, “I guess he saw there were no wood chips over there when he got here, went over and kept going.”

To loud applause, Mr. Furino thanked the person who made the bench dedication possible, Megan Leland.

Speaking about the pain of losing a child, Mr. Furino said, “After four to five years, I was skeptical when they said, it doesn’t get better, but now, after 10 years, I’ll tell you it might be even worse than it was three to four years ago.”

Kevin Johnson detailed the endurance of grief and the importance of support. “The feeling doesn’t go away, it’s very poignant,” Mr. Johnson said. “This gathering, it makes this community unique. When you go through a situation like this, you feel alone, and when you see this strong sense of support, it makes you feel like you’re not. The pain is still there, it doesn’t go away, but what this does for me, it grants me a sense of support.”

Mr. Johnson added, “You have to remember the old adage: it’s not the cards you’re dealt, but how you deal with them.”

At the conclusion of the service Jimmy Baird, a classmate and friend of David and Kevin, presented bouquets of flowers to Barbara Furino, Anne Johnson, and Megan Leland. Tears mingled with a few solitary drops of rain.

In the high school cafeteria, friends shared stories and Backdoor Donuts and coffee donated by Mocha Mott’s.

Ms. Leland said the original plan was to provide one $1,000 scholarship, “but people kept giving.”

“So now we’re doing two $750 scholarships, one for each of the boys. For two friends, maybe, or two kids from O.B., who otherwise wouldn’t win anything.”

Ms. Leland said she was very pleased with the morning and the opportunity to see familiar faces. “Everyone still on the Island, or who could get back, they came,” she said.