‘He did a lot for friends’

EVERETT — Marcus Lee gladly dripped with sweat inside an Easter bunny costume to brighten the holiday for little kids.

The Everett man, 19, insisted on buying his godson’s first pair of baby shoes and, in a pinch, helped cash-strapped friends pay for a brake job and rent.

Three years ago, when C.J. Skinner was leery of a group of teens who confronted him at the mall late one night, he called Lee, who came to his aid and walked him home.

“He did a lot for his friends,” the Mariner High School senior said.

These days, Lee’s friends are mourning. Lee died Monday while swimming with friends in the Stillaguamish River. The Snohomish County Medical Examiner on Thursday said he was the victim of accidental drowning.

At dusk on Wednesday, more than 180 of his friends gathered between portable classrooms at Aces Alternative High School in south Everett to share memories and console each other. There was more laughter than tears during the candlelight vigil as friends and relatives described an unrepentant ladies’ man who liked to sing, barbecue, raid the refrigerator and care for animals.

The oldest of three boys, he endured hardships, including the death of his father in 2000. He moved a lot in his short life.

“He was really the glue that held his family together,” said Pam White, Lee’s aunt. “He got caught up in teenage angst but was smart enough to make the good choices at the end of the day.”

Such was the case with his education. When his mother moved to Louisiana, Lee stayed in the Northwest. He wanted to finish high school here.

He fell behind on credits early on and worked hard at ACES to raise his grades so he could graduate.

Ralinda Underwood, who offered him a home for more than a year, said everyone was proud of Lee for sticking it out and earning his diploma.

“It was a new beginning for him,” she said. “He had so much to offer.”

Mayra Puentes remembers Lee’s persistent, albeit playful, flirting each day. “He’d say, ‘Give me a chance. I’m not like other guys.’ He would never give up. He made everything at ACES so much better.”

What impressed her most is he would share his breakfast — typically sausage, cheese and eggs with ketchup — with her each morning.

Lee’s uncle, Moses White, said it was inspiring to see so many people pay tribute to his nephew.

He and his wife, Pam, also are grateful for the work of emergency workers who searched the river for Lee.

“The rescue effort was amazing,” she said.

Lee’s body was found Tuesday about 35 yards from where he was swimming with friends near the Blue Stilly Park the afternoon before.

The water in that area of the river is about 12 feet deep.

A friend dove in from the riverfront and tried to rescue him.

“He had him by the wrist and the current pulled them apart,” Pam White said. “We are so thankful it was not a double drowning.”

Cici Nesmith wore her son’s first shoes around her neck on Wednesday night. She has known Lee since childhood. Nesmith said Lee would want people to celebrate his life rather than mourn his death.

“Everybody got along because of him,” she said. “He was a big guy for respect.”

Funeral arrangements are pending.

Eric Stevick: 425-339-3446; stevick@heraldnet.com.

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