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Community grieves Poulsbo teen’s death
POULSBO — No one knows why Evan Theodore Tong left the world at 17.
Perhaps it was the overwhelming experience of being a teenager on the cusp of adulthood, Joe Pulicicchio speculated of the young man who was as comfortable figuring out complicated video games as he was playing in the woods or pranking his friends.
“He was a great kid. He didn’t have a mean bone in his body,” said Pulicicchio, a close friend of the family. “He never spoke an angry word about anyone or any thing. He was a gentle giant.”
A senior at North Kitsap High School, Evan was 6-2 — soon to be 6-4, Pulicicchio said — and wore a size 14 shoe.
“He’d grown into a handsome, brilliant young man,” said Evan’s mother, Carol Tong. “I didn’t know he was struggling.”
Evan died Dec. 28 — he “flew to heaven,” his mother wrote in his obituary. When students at North Kitsap High School returned from winter break Jan. 6, the school’s three counselors had cleared their schedules so they’d be available for any students who needed to talk.
Principal Judson Miller said counselors were busy.
While Evan’s death leaves a lot of unanswered questions for those who knew and loved him, on Jan. 10 all who knew Evan will gather in the Suquamish Tribe’s House of Awakened Culture to comfort each other with what they do know: “He was loved by more people than anybody knew,” his mom said. “There are so many families that considered him one of their own. There have been so many stories we’ve been sharing to celebrate his life.”
This is what friends and family will talk about at the memorial: How Evan helped his friends with their studies so they’d pass their classes. How his smile could lift others’ spirits. How his grandfather, Frank Mascaro of Poulsbo, has always been “Papa Frank” to Evan’s friends, and how many families considered Evan one of their own.
“He had more best friends, more love around him than anyone ever knew,” his mom said. “It’s just wrong,” Evan’s mom said of his death. “It’s just wrong. I want him back.”
Evan was born in Newport Beach, Calif., but was a North Kitsap boy through and through. He grew up in a largely rural area of Poulsbo and attended North Kitsap schools from grades K-12. While attending Poulsbo Middle School, he and 27 classmates presented a project at the State Capitol as part of Project Citizen, a program of the Center for Civic Education.
Carol hasn’t reached out, but the community has reached out to her. The Suquamish Tribe is providing use of the House of Awakened Culture for the memorial at no cost. Blue Sky Printing is printing programs for the memorial service for free. Her co-workers at Central Market have started a fund to help her meet expenses as she takes time off to grieve. Donations to the Evan T. Tong Memorial Fund at Kitsap Credit Union will be used for Evan’s sister’s college education.
“I am grateful for everything everyone is doing,” Carol said Jan. 6. “I’m struggling to go on. I hope nobody ever has to go through this.”
Pulicicchio asked that the community continue to keep Carol in their thoughts. “Just be thinking of her,” he said. “The community has been awesome — the parents, all the stuff they’ve been doing. It’s taken everything within her just to put her thoughts on paper.”
The memorial begins at 4 p.m. Family and friends will talk about what Evan’s life meant to them, and what he means to them still.
“I have nothing but pure joy in my heart every moment I think of him,” Evan’s mom said.
They are moments that sustain a mother as she grieves.
Tyler Lee, a North Kitsap High School senior, knew Evan since kindergarten and they spent most days together, and frequently spent the night at each other’s homes. “He was definitely like a brother to me,” Tyler said Jan. 7. Tyler said that when his own mom couldn’t attend his kindergarten graduation, Evan’s mom stood in as his “substitute mom.”
“He was the most happy-go-lucky kid you could meet,” Tyler said. “No one’s ever had a bad thing to say about him, which is why it’s so amazing that something like this would happen.”
Evan spent part of his last day with his and Tyler’s friends — about 10 of 20 from their circle — hanging out and playing video games.
“I thought he was happiest I had seen him,” Tyler said. “He showed no signs” that anything was wrong.
Evan was expected to catch a flight to Southern California later that day to visit his dad and other family there. He didn’t make it.
Tyler said Evan had expressed interest in attending Western Washington University, and Tyler imagined him as a great engineer. “He could pick up something he’d never looked at before and make it work. He had an intuitive mind.”
Tyler plans to talk at the memorial on Jan. 10. He’ll share photos in a slideshow. The photos depict his friend as he remembers him: smiling.
Evan is survived by his parents, Carol Tong of Poulsbo and Barney Tong of Newport Beach, Calif.; his sister, Nicole Kiyoko Tong, a student at the University of Idaho; his grandfather, Frank Mascaro of Poulsbo; and his grandmother, Mary Ann Mascaro of Costa Mesa, Calif.