Nearly a thousand people packed Lakeside Church in Folsom on Saturday for a final ceremony to honor Ronin Shimizu, 12, who committed suicide last month.
Family and friends say the seventh-grader’s untimely death Dec. 3 was the result of years of bullying at school. His suicide has rattled the community and drawn international media attention.
On Saturday, he was remembered as creative and innovative. Ronin loved art, fashion and cheerleading. His best friend, Haley Hill, said Ronin had promised to design her wedding dress.
“I have no doubt it would have been one of the most incredible dresses the world has ever seen,” said Haley, 13, struggling to hold back tears. “But the world won’t get to see it now, and I won’t get to see it.”
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“Life without him will never be the same.”
The hall was decorated with light-green-colored balloons – Ronin’s favorite color. Ronin’s parents, Brandon and Danielle Shimizu, sat in the front row and left without commenting.
Brandon Shimizu, wearing a light green tie, walked out of the auditorium stone-faced, while Danielle Shimizu was visibly upset.
At the start of the ceremony, Ronin’s Boy Scout troop presented colors and saluted his photo, a smiling portrait taken at Yosemite National Park. The Rev. Brad Franklin of Lakeside Church started the ceremony with a Bible reading and offered a prayer.
“Like Ronin, we are all on a search to belong,” Franklin said.
Ronin, who turned 12 in June, was enrolled at Folsom Cordova Community Charter School. Students there study independently at home and pursue the curriculum from the district. His parents turned to homeschooling after Ronin endured bullying at several schools, they said.
He was a cheerleading member of the Vista Jr. Eagles – the squad’s only boy. Though not a school district organization, the Eagles call themselves the “official feeder program to Vista Del Lago High School,” one of the area’s many youth programs that prepare students for high school football and cheerleading squads.
Folsom Cordova Unified School District officials have promised a full review into the allegations of bullying. Ronin started sixth grade at Folsom Middle School in August 2013 but left three months later, after his parents lodged a complaint with the district about bullying.
Folsom Cordova Unified spokesman Daniel Thigpen last month said the district “is taking this opportunity to see how we respond to all the cases of bullying in recent years so we can have all the information we need to respond moving forward.”
Before stepping off the stage at Saturday’s ceremony, Haley offered a quote from Indian freedom fighter Mahatma Gandhi: “Be the change that you wish to see in the world.”
“I plan to be the change, and I hope you all will too,” Haley said.
Call The Bee’s Richard Chang at (916) 321-1018. Follow him on Twitter @RichardYChang.