Peggy Sturdivant

At Large in Ballard: In memoriam: Justin Amorratanasuchad

“I’ll probably read about your trip to Barcelona in the Ballard News,” my dentist teased me a few days before I left town. While in Barcelona I didn’t give Ballard a thought. What cats? What column? What bell tower?

Ignorance can only last so long. I flew back by way of New York for a visit with family in the Boston area. During a layover at JFK Airport I was confused by the frenzy, not sure if it was NYC normal. It wasn’t. I learned that tornadoes had been ripping their way up the Southeastern states, devastating towns and cities and leaving travelers stranded, and worried about home.

The following morning I was awake when “The Boston Globe” hit the doorstep at my sister’s house with a pre-dawn thud. My sister’s family was still out of town for their spring break so it was just me and her lonely cat reading the paper before sunrise. The headline was painful even before I read the words on the top line of front page of the Metro section, “Emerson student dies in fall from building.” Justin Amorratanasuchad, hometown Seattle.

I realized I was reading, not just about a talented local college student who had died in an accidental fall, but about a Ballard High School 2008 graduate, whose film work I’ve probably seen.

I didn’t expect to be reading about Ballard while I was in Topsfield, but here is what I want to share from the East Coast. Justin’s death is being mourned greatly here. It is now four days since Justin died after a fall from the roof of a building in South Boston but every day “The Boston Globe” continues to provide information about Justin’s filmmaking career and plans for a memorial service at Emerson College.

The media speculates that he was probably filming his final project for a cinematography project interpreting the poem, “A City in Four Parts.” City of Boston officials have since warned all landlords to double-check their rooftop security.

After middle school in Seattle students shift around the city depending on their interests, but alliances continue and form as some students meet at football games, others at film festivals. Ballard’s own Jesse Harris has helped put Ballard students and all high school filmmakers on the map with the National Film Festival for Talented Youth. In a bittersweet coincidence NFFTY 2011 is actually happening this week in Seattle.

Meanwhile on the East Coast the Boston Marathon has come and gone. The local sports teams continue to hold on through their playoff games but the real emotions this week have been over two news stories; Justin’s death and that of a fifteen year-old boy murdered near Boston in 1969. Forty-two years after the death of John McCabe, three suspects have been arrested. The arrests are credited in part to a family who never forgot their child and a police detective who didn’t live long enough to see the case solved. The McCabe family offers proof that even a child who dies too soon is never forgotten.

I didn’t know Justin Amorratanasuchad or his family, but I know those Ballard Video Production students and their talented counter parts at Center School and Rrrl Girls. For their sake we parents act in their productions, we store leaves for months in the garage, deliver batteries to “on-location” filming. We revel in watching their creativity, try to support them and keep them safe.

You won’t be reading about my trip to Barcelona. How I wish I wasn’t reading about Ballard. There is no distance or time limit when it comes to the loss of someone’s child, no matter their hometown.

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