Monday, November 8, 1999



By Dennis Oda, Star-Bulletin
Elaine Silva and Debi Vega, in top photo, wipe away
tears during a memorial service yesterday for all seven
victims of Tuesday's shooting.

Church services
help closure

'It helped us grieve for them.
We came to love them and
we will miss them'

By Lori Tighe


The choir of Tongan people, the men in traditional skirts and the women with their hair in buns, quietly stood up in the back of the church. Then they raised their voices to the heavens and sang with the strength of a full orchestra for seven dead strangers.

As rain poured around Trinity United Methodist Church yesterday, more than 100 people, like thousands of other Sunday worshipers at churches across Hawaii, asked for spiritual guidance to help the community understand Tuesday's shooting spree at the Xerox building on Nimitz Highway. Later in the day, about 1,200 mourners braved the rain at the Nuuanu Memorial Park Mortuary to pay tribute to Melvin Lee, 58, the first of the seven victims to be buried.

"I've thought long and hard about what I could say to you this morning. We are all grieving, shocked and stunned. You've been asking the question, 'How can anything like this happen in the aloha state?' " said the Rev. Dr. Richard Matsushita, pastor of Trinity United Methodist.

By Dennis Oda, Star-Bulletin
Catherine Barroga and her 3-year-old
daughter light a candle for victim Peter Mark.

Speaking at a special memorial Mass at the church in Pearl City before church members as well as friends and family of some of the victims, Matsushita said that he, too, struggled with the question why.

"We may never be able to find a satisfactory answer," he said. "The question we need to ask ourselves is how. How can we heal the wounds of our community?"

Matsushita called out the name of each of the seven victims. Ronald Kataoka. Ford Kanehira. Peter Mark. Melvin Lee. Jason Balatico. Ronald Kawamae. John Sakamoto. As each was called, his friends and loved ones stood. A bell was rung. A church member or a friend of the victim came to the altar and lit a candle.

With tear-filled eyes, Matsushita lit the last candle, for the family of Byran Uyesugi, the alleged killer.

"The good news is this: God understands our suffering and pain," Matsushita told the assembled. "He understands losing a loved one. He suffered pain and the death of his only son. Love lives on. God will not surrender, and he will be the final victor."

By George F. Lee, Star-Bulletin
Mourners depart a Nuuanu mortuary
after a service for Melvin Lee.

Catherine Barroga sang "In This Life," for her friend Peter Mark. Her preschool daughter, Kristin, hugged her leg during the song. Barroga also lit a candle for Mark. After the service, she shook the minister's hand, thanked him and wiped away tears as she left the church carrying her daughter on her hip.

Debi Vega, who knew all seven men, said the service began the healing process. She and two other employees of Professional Image knew the victims because they had repaired the company's copiers for years.

"For all of us who had to deal, it helped for closure. It helped us grieve for them. We came to love them, and we will miss them dearly," she said.

Bernie Gorgonio, whose wife, Kara, knew Peter Mark, said there were many funerals yet to go to. Kara Gorgonio, a Kinko's branch manager, also knew the victims from their work repairing the store's copiers.

"It helps ease the pain," he said. Then nodding to his wife, he added, "She's been devastated."

Although Trinity United Methodist member Ruben Nesinas didn't know the men who died, he could relate to them. Nesinas lit a candle for Ronald Kataoka.

"It's a tragedy. He's a decent man trying to make a living," Nesinas said. "I feel sorry about it and have been praying for him and his family."

He felt that yesterday's service helped those who attended "100 percent," he said. "I saw the spirit of ohana start to build up again."

Enid Roe, visiting from Kansas, found the service beautiful and comforting. She called the shooting an unimaginable shock. She has visited Hawaii about eight times and never thought mainland crime could mar the "quietness of the islands."

Matsushita saw the need for a memorial service after he discussed the Xerox shooting with a group of preschoolers last week. One girl was the daughter of a Xerox employee.

Matsushita asked the youngsters if it would help if they prayed for the victims and their families. When they eagerly said yes, Matsushita realized the community needed this as well.

At the funeral for Lee, mourners got a flyer that noted that he was born in the year of the dragon in the Chinese zodiac.

"Dragon-year people are honest, sensitive and brave and can inspire trust in almost everyone," the funeral brochure said. Since the year 2000 is a dragon year, the family asked that people remember Lee as they welcome in the new millennium.

The family had also asked that the media not attend Lee's service.

A Xerox spokesman described the events after it was over.

Lee was remembered as the Alan Wong of Xerox because he was such a good cook, according to co-workers.

Lee shared recipes with his colleagues and was part of the "lunch bunch" of managers who gathered four days a week for lunch.

They called him "seefoo." Lee told them it meant master in Chinese. They later learned that it meant chief cook.

He was also a devoted family man. Scott Lee, his son, said, "On behalf of the family, I would like to express my deepest gratitude for the love and support that our friends and family have given us this week.

"There has been a lot of media coverage reminding us how he died. We ask you to remember how he lived."

The Rev. Christopher Eng told mourners not to focus on why Lee and the six other men died, but to focus on the meaning of life and to make their lives more meaningful.

"You will feel sorrow, anger, regret, guilt and shame," he said. "That is normal. It is important to find forgiveness."

Family friend Malcolm Tam said Lee was a true friend.

"A true friend offers us a safe refuge from the world," he said. "A true friend defends us forever. And that friendship continues to grow and nurture even if separated by distance and time."

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