Jesse Stoner: Poetry flowed, but life ebbed

By SCOTT NORTH

Herald Writer

Jesse Stoner was touched by death.

When a neighbor died in mid-May at the mobile home park where he spent most of his 18 years, the south Everett man wrote a poem about how a life can end but love can still survive.

"He might be gone, but we’re still here," Stoner wrote. "We’ll share our love and pass the fear. Know he’s happy. Know he’s free. But not to worry. Let it be."

Two weeks later, the poem was read at Stoner’s own memorial service.

He was one of two young men who died May 30 when a fistfight outside a south Everett home turned into a gunbattle.

"It is almost like he wrote it for himself," Ken Stoner, the teen’s father, said recently. The family in November learned the poem has been chosen for publication in an anthology of verse by young writers.

Stoner’s poem is one of the many ironies in a case that seems as senseless as it is tragic.

The Stoner home is like a shrine to the slain teen. His ashes sit in a small, boxy urn in the living room, next to the high school class ring he didn’t live long enough to wear. Stoner’s mother, Donna, keeps a yellow-and-green plaid shirt tucked away in her bedroom, to her a priceless treasure.

"This shirt is the last one I saw him in," she explained. "It hasn’t been washed. I smell it every day."

Jesse Stoner was born June 5, 1981, in Edmonds. His birth occurred days before the couple’s fifth wedding anniversary.

Ken, who then was making his living as a drummer in a rock ‘n’ roll band, had long resisted the idea of becoming a father. He just didn’t want to bring a child into this world. But the baby was a pure joy.

The young Jesse danced from an early age, mimicking the moves he saw on videos or from older children. But it was his irreverent sense of humor that brought the most smiles.

Jesse got into his share of mischief growing up. One time when he was 4, he and another young boy sparked a fire in a vacant lot near their home. Nobody was hurt, but the fire department had to be called.

When Donna Stoner found out, she was furious, and reminded her soot-stained son that she’d always taught him not to play with matches.

"I didn’t use matches, Mom," he told her. "I used a lighter."

Jesse Stoner loved making people smile. Somebody feeling down? He’d begin quoting dialogue from Arnold Schwarzenegger films, or doing impressions of the velociraptors from "Jurassic Park."

The humor wasn’t always G-rated or politically correct, however, like the time he apparently convinced a substitute teacher at Mariner High School that he was developmentally disabled, much to the delight of his classmates.

He was voted "Class Clown" last year at Mariner, a distinction his parents didn’t know about until three days after his death, when they got a copy of his yearbook.

Like many people his age, Jesse Stoner loved gangsta rap, with its edgy lyrics about violence and crime. He and some of his friends had their own rap group called Unseen Mob. Stoner was known for his ability to "flow," stringing together rhymes on the spot. Stoner’s rap nickname was "Ghost," a moniker that remains a mystery to his parents.

Ken Stoner was the son of a musician, too. He took pride that his son also had been bitten by the performance bug. The young Stoner had been approached by people involved locally in the rap music business who were interested in working on projects together.

Jesse Stoner was still trying to figure out what he wanted to do. He’d recently dropped out of high school, but planned on getting his GED. He wanted to do something to help others, and had talked about becoming a firefighter

About two months before his death, Stoner drew a caricature of himself. The sketch depicts him rapping into a microphone, an image that is funny and tough and cool, all at once. He drew himself in a favorite T-shirt, the one he was wearing the night he died.

Stoner was seated in a car that was being driven away from the fight scene when he was shot. He couldn’t have run even if he’d tried. His right foot was in a cast. He’d been injured when a glass jar dropped on his foot, severing a tendon that required surgery to repair. That injury seems a blessing now, his parents said. Their son was home a lot in the final weeks of his life, recuperating and spending time with family.

The teen remains close to his parents’ hearts. They put in a memorial garden in the backyard where he played as a young boy, assembled from flowers and shrubs brought by friends of the slain teen. It is in a spot the young Stoner had cleared not long before his death, saying he planned on planting some flowers.

Donna and Ken Stoner both say they’ve felt their son’s presence since his death. Sometimes they even see his image in religious paintings or just flashing on a wall. They’ve taken great comfort in their son’s friends, who still come around to share memories. Some have had his name tattooed on their arms and legs.

The family wants to thank everybody who has "had a kind word or a kind thought or who said a prayer," Ken Stoner said.

Donna Stoner deals with her loss in part by writing letters to her son. She writes about the things he’ll never know: finishing his education, settling down with a woman, the joy of holding his firstborn child.

Jesse was no angel, his mother said with a smile. But she has no doubt where he is today.

She addresses the letters "To my son in heaven."

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