Celebration of life held for youth who took his life after being bullied

ON THE COVER: Ronin Shimizu’s celebration of life service was held Jan. 10 in Folsom, Calif. photo by Sacramento Bee/Brian Nguyen

ON THE COVER: Ronin Shimizu’s celebration of life service was held Jan. 10 in Folsom, Calif. photo by Sacramento Bee/Brian Nguyen

FOLSOM, Calif. — Nearly 600 people gathered in the main auditorium of Lakeside Church in Folsom, Calif. Jan. 10 to attend the celebration of life service for 12-year-old Ronin Shimizu, who took his own life Dec. 3, after years of being bullied.

Among those who attended were Ronin’s family and friends, as well as members of the Vista Junior Eagles cheer squad, the Upper Natoma Rowing Club, Boy Scout Troop 134 and other groups that he participated in.

Lakeside Church Lead Pastor Brad Franklin said Ronin’s family invited the public to attend.

“It would have been easier just to gather with family but it was the family’s desire to bring the community together and share together as a community, and that’s a beautiful gift to the rest of us,” he said.

The service began with a flag presentation by Boy Scout Troop 134. Robin Drummond, chaplain with the Sierra Law Enforcement Chaplaincy, delivered the eulogy.

“Ronin will always be remembered for being a loving, sensitive, smart, compassionate and empathetic person who always followed his heart,” Drummond said.

Lakeside Church Middle School Pastor Kevin Kent was also involved in officiating the service with Franklin. He recalled meeting a happy, smiling Ronin at a swim party this past summer.

“(Middle schoolers) seem to have the ability to live big lives, have a lot of fun and if you give them a chance they will undoubtedly surprise you,” Kent said. “I think we saw that as (Drummond) read Ronin’s story.”

Musician and family friend Erik Schramm performed a few songs during the service. Family friend, 13-year-old Haley Hill, read a poem and said a few words of remembrance.

“He always told me, one day, he would make my wedding dress,” Hill said, pausing in an attempt to hold back tears. “And I have no doubt it would have been the most incredible dress anyone has ever seen.” Hill said she and Ronin were best friends.

A photo slideshow was presented to celebrate Ronin’s life, followed by a final message by Franklin.

Concluding the service, the service hostess first led the immediate family out of the auditorium to another room for private family time before the rest of the attendees were able to leave. Franklin said the church’s student ministry leaders and chaplains from the Sierra Law Enforcement Chaplaincy were available for youth discussions in the lobby after the service.

A Boy of Many Talents

Born on July 10, 2002, Ronin was given his name as a tribute to his Japanese ancestry, Drummond said during the eulogy. He had many interests which included drawing, painting, dance, fashion and architectural design. As he grew older, his interests grew with him.

“He loved to use his innovative and creative spirit to make great things,” Drummond read.

Ronin, like his father Brandon Shimizu, liked to collect various “gizmos” and trinkets, especially electronic ones. He would keep these in satchels he made out of pieces of fabric, glue, string, buttons, glitter and other items.

At 7 years old, Ronin designed his first dress using scraps of fabric, beads and a dress form he received from Shimizu, who is a tailor. Ronin did not need a pattern to design it.

“Ronin had a very keen eye for fashion and would help (his mother) Danielle and family members and his friends put together smart outfits,” Drummond read.

Later on, Ronin made a jacket for the family’s Scottish terrier using his brother’s old pair of shorts and a wool pillow made from a blanket for their cat.

Ronin enjoyed the holiday season and any opportunity to bring people together, but his favorite holidays were Fourth of July, Halloween and Christmas. During Halloween, he and Shimizu would discuss how the front yard should be decorated. Ronin gave the final “seal of approval” in the end.

When he was 5 years old, Ronin decorated their entire Christmas tree with Matchbox toy cars because he felt his parents took too long to bring out the Christmas ornaments. From that point on, Ronin became in charge of decorating the Christmas tree.

Following an interest in theater, Ronin played a supporting role in an El Dorado Musical Theatre production of “Alice in Wonderland” when he was 10 years old. He also took tap dancing lessons with the Sutter Street Theatre.

At an early age, Ronin learned that he was flexible, which allowed him to do cartwheels and the splits. He began to do tumbling and gymnastics, leading him to eventually join the cheer squad. He became the first male cheerleader for the Vista Jr. Eagles.

Cheerleaders who attended Ronin’s celebration of life wore their cheer uniform and other Eagle team elements, as instructed by the “Vista Jr. Eagles Football & Cheer” Facebook page.

Ronin was also an active member with the Boy Scouts of America and began his involvement with Pack 386 with the Cub Scouts and ended with Troop 134 with the Boy Scouts.

One of Ronin’s favorite things about being a scout was the camping trips, Drummond said. Although he was described as being “germaphobic,” camping was the only activity he didn’t mind going without a shower or hand sanitizer for days and coming home covered in dirt.

Later, Ronin joined the Upper Natoma Rowing Club, where he was the youngest and smallest member. He was training to be a coxswain, who steers the boat and leads the other rowers.

“He was too young and he will be remembered for the joy that he brought to our lives,” the UNRC wrote on its Facebook page. “He truly enjoyed the sport of rowing and he blessed us with his enthusiasm.”

Ronin looked forward to rowing practice and would have his gear ready at least half an hour before it was time to leave. He wanted to be the first one there to show his dedication to the team.

Ronin’s parents often referred to him as a “social butterfly” who was never afraid to meet new people and make new friends. Friend Haley Hill reflected this in her speech, sharing how he would make her smile and laugh.

“Ronin always knew how to make someone laugh or bring a huge smile to your face with his crazy personality,” she said.

Community Response to a Tragedy

Ronin’s death has sparked a huge social media response. Users of popular social media outlets Twitter and Tumblr have generated hundreds of posts regarding his death using hashtags like #RIPRonin. Many shared how shocked they were to hear the news of his death, while others also used this opportunity to voice their opinion about bullying.

On Facebook, the community page “Ronin’s Voice” has more than 7,000 followers as of Jan. 21. More than 500 people liked the post on Ronin’s Voice that detailed the information for Ronin’s Celebration of Life.

The Ronin Shimizu Memorial Fund has raised $22,632 from 492 donations as of Jan. 21 since its creation on Dec. 6. About one month ago, Kim D’Agostino of the Vista Jr. Eagles and original organizer of the fund turned over management of the fund to the Shimizu family. Brandon Shimizu is currently the page’s main contact.

“Your generosity will go a long way in covering funeral and unexpected expenses that have arisen from this tragedy, as well as giving us the opportunity to, at some point in the future, grow ‘Ronin’s Voice’ into more than a Facebook page,” the Shimizu family posted in an update on the fund’s page.

The Shimizus are just a few thousand dollars away from their $25,000 goal.

In addition, two balloon release gatherings have been held to honor Ronin. According to The Sacramento Bee, the first one took place at Folsom High School Dec. 9, where neon green, yellow and white balloons were released.

The second one happened at Russell Ranch Elementary Jan. 3 at 3 p.m. in honor of Ronin’s death one month prior, according to “Ronin’s Voice.” More than 100 neon green balloons (in Ronin’s favorite color) were released, some with a written memory or message to Ronin on it.

Bullying Complaint Investigation Update

As of Jan. 14, Folsom Cordova Unified School District Public Information Officer Daniel Thigpen said there are no major developments yet in the investigation on the complaints the Shimizus filed regarding the bullying Ronin endured. It is still early in the investigation especially with the recent closure of the school for winter break, Thigpen said.

However, at the same time, Thigpen said they are also working on forming the details for a planned bullying prevention task force, of which Superintendent Deborah Bettencourt proposed at the Dec. 11 Board meeting.

“What I’ve found this week is that we have at least three areas of immediate attention and then a need for a longer, more sustained approach to fully integrate some changes into our district and community,” Bettencourt said in remarks posted on the Folsom Cordova Unified School District Website.

Bettencourt specified the need for “a clear definition of bullying to parents, students and staff” and “articulation between schools — elementary, middle and high schools — regarding both perpetrators AND victims. This will require a Districtwide (required) tracking system. While we track incidents by school, the info is not always transferred with the student when they change schools.” Additionally, she expressed the need for “More training, ongoing training, for all staff, from yard duty supervisors and bus drivers to teachers. But, also, more communication and resources for families. Discussion starters for conversations at home about bullying, standing up for victims, reporting to adults, to reinforce: ‘If you See Something, Say Something.’”

Thigpen added that the district “intend(s) to have more details about community participation in this effort in the coming weeks.”

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