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Death of beloved teen leaves many grieving
Hundreds of islanders on Sunday bade farewell to Ryan Belknap Krug, a talented teen and native son who was remembered for his zest for life, unwavering kindness, strong work ethic and a mop of curls that surrounded him like a halo.
In a memorial service in a packed Vashon High School gymnasium, several speakers — including his best friend and two of his teachers — told stories about Krug, played music in his honor and recalled his short but rich life on Vashon, the only home he ever knew.
“I have a lot of great memories of him, some of which I can’t share with you,” Grant Lyons, his best friend, said to laughter.
Ken Quehrn, his band teacher, also told stories that made people smile, describing the delightfully quirky way that Krug organized his music — by the last letter of the arranger’s first name — and his penchant for playing certain movie theme songs over and over again.
The VHS band teacher teared up as he noted “the hole” that will now exist in the high school’s music program. “But Ryan,” he added, “we’re going to keep playing great music.”
Krug, a junior at VHS, was killed in a tragic, one-car accident last Tuesday night, en route to his Dockton home after a study session at a friend’s house. The car apparently slid out of control, possibly because he was trying to avoid a deer, and broadsided a telephone pole. According to the King County Sheriff’s Office, Krug was wearing his seatbelt, and there were no indications of alcohol or drug use.
Krug had turned 17 three weeks before. He’d had his driver’s license five days.
His death, the first fatal car accident on Vashon in several years, has hit the island’s tight-knit school district and teen community hard. In the days that followed Tuesday night’s accident, the crash site on Dockton Road just south of Engels Repair & Towing has been turned into a flower-adorned shrine honoring the much-loved student. Teens have held impromptu gatherings at the site, lighting candles and singing “Lean on Me.” Teachers have stood at the site. Father Tryphon and other monks from the All-Merciful Saviour Orthodox Monastery gathered there, too.
Tryphon, a chaplain for the Vashon fire department and one of the speakers at the memorial service, said that when he got the call Tuesday night that there’d been a fatal accident on Dockton Road, he made a heartfelt plea as he headed to the accident scene: “Please don’t let it be a young person. Please don’t let it be someone I know.”
In fact, he did know Krug. The teen, the bearded monk said, smiling, was the first islander to refer to him as Professor Dumbledore.
Krug, the son of Richard Krug and Rose Belknap, lived his entire life in the Dockton home his parents bought after they moved to the island in 1976. His sister Savannah Krug is a student at Western Washington University.
Friends and family members recalled Ryan Krug as a scholar, a musician and an athlete, a young man with a keen mind, a dry sense of humor and a determination to do well. He played tenor saxophone, ran cross-country and played club soccer every year since first grade and was planning to turn out for high school soccer again this spring. When he was a freshman and his sister a senior, the two served as “turkeys,” leading the pack for the famous elementary school race called the Turkey Trot. In 2011, he competed in Seattle’s half-marathon, completing the 13-mile race in 1:46. He was voted captain of the cross-country team last year.
An honor student at VHS, he had a 3.96 grade-point average and wanted to go to a college with a strong science department and a good pep band. He hoped to major in biology and had a keen interest in environmental science, his father said. The day before he died, Rich and Ryan Krug had begun making plans to tour colleges.
His parents, sitting together on a couch in their modest home overlooking outer Quartermaster Harbor last Friday, wept often as they described their son, a boy who had an almost preternatural desire to do well and help others.
As a preschooler, they said, he offered up his entire wooden train set when his teacher asked for contributions to an orphanage in Central America. As an elementary school student, he volunteered for Vashon Island Pet Protectors, making doggie care packages to hand out at the Strawberry Festival. Twenty-five hours of community service are required to graduate from Vashon High School. His parents estimate he had more than 200.
Last summer, in what they described as an experience that seemed to both deepen and strengthen him, Krug spent two months at Battle Mountain, Idaho, living in a tent and doing trail work for the Student Conservation Association. He buzz-cut his thick blond hair before he left and returned buffer and stronger.
“He came back a different person,” Rose recalled.
Ryan Krug made it to the state high school band competition as a soloist last year — a significant accomplishment in the competitive world of high school musicianship — and was practicing with the hope of again making it to state. He planned to play “Fantasia,” and for months he’d been practicing the complex piece. Rose said she recently got to hear him perform the piece with the pianist who planned to accompany him and was struck, watching him, by how much he enjoyed playing his saxophone.
He practiced in his bedroom next to the small living room where his parents often read or watched television in the evening and was excited to be able to start driving to school in the family car because it meant he could lug his heavy instrument home more easily. Tearing up, Rich Krug said he’ll deeply miss not hearing his son play.
“Every night, we got to hear him play the sax. I will miss that. I’ll miss the music,” he said.
Students, too, say they’ll deeply miss Ryan Krug, a popular student with a network of friends from his sports teams and other school activities.
Hart Heffelfinger, a junior, stopped at the crash site Thursday morning, where he hugged Mara Burns, another junior who stood before the growing collection of flowers, candles, photos and memorabilia. Heffelfinger was at the study session with Krug the night he died, a chemistry session, he noted, that involved a lot of help from Krug, who was strong in chemistry.
“He was really smart. He was always helping me with my homework,” said Heffelfinger, who grew up with Krug.
Burns, another junior, said she’d miss seeing him walk down the hallway holding his girlfriend’s hand. “I saw him every day. He was in so many of my classes. It’s so hard to comprehend I’m not going to see him anymore.”
Heffelfinger was in a car behind Krug’s Tuesday night when the accident occurred, though he didn’t see the actual collision. In fact, he didn’t even realize his friend had crashed, he said; it looked like he’d pulled over onto the shoulder, and Heffelfinger, thinking Krug had stopped because he had forgotten something, started to drive past until he realized what had happened.
Heffelfinger stopped, as did another driver who quickly called 911. “My hands were shaking too much to hold my phone,” Heffelfinger recalled.
In the days following the accident, counselors from Vashon Youth & Family Services as well as VHS counselors and staff spent time at the school library, talking to students who were devastated by the news of his death. The tragedy has affected the entire school district, in part because of Rose Belknap’s connection to the school system: She works as an artist-in-residence at Chautauqua Elementary School, is a lunchroom supervisor and recently was asked to oversee the Chautauqua library, said Michael Soltman, superintendent at the school district.
“Everybody’s really struggling,” Soltman said the day after the accident. “It’s absolutely devastating.”
Quehrn, the band teacher, said that when his students filed into classroom Wednesday morning, the day after the accident, he told them they weren’t going to play that day and urged them not to sit in their seats. The students ended up plopped on the floor against a wall, shoulder to shoulder, leaning on each other as some cried. Quehrn sat in Ryan Krug’s seat.
“We just sat there. I cried in front of them. We sat in silence and then shared some memories,” he said.
Krug, he said, was “a rock solid young man, and I would have done anything for him as his teacher.”
At the service, attended by 700 to 800 people, Barbara Gylland, the mother of two of Ryan Krug’s good friends, described him as a young man who lived life fully, nurtured by parents who dedicated their lives to their two children.
He was energetic, she said. He ran constantly. He skateboarded, skied, camped and hiked. And until he cut his hair last summer, she said, his “bountiful blond curls” seemed like a halo when they shimmered in the sun.
“Ryan crossed his finish line way too soon,” she said. “We fully expected to keep cheering him on for years to come.”