Rith Kok tenderly stroked his younger brother’s head.
Standing beside Samnang Kok’s open casket Tuesday, Rith kept watch and shook hands with friends and mourners who came to say goodbye.
“Thank you for being here,” the older brother told more than 500 people packed into Southside Baptist Church in Tacoma for Samnang’s memorial service. “I’m going to miss him.”
The crowd, many of them young men and women and teenagers dressed in black, overflowed the church sanctuary. About half raised their hands when asked if they attended Foss High School with Samnang. Some people leaned along the walls, while others sat or stood in the church entrance, the main door standing open to accommodate the mourners.
During the hourlong ceremony, friends recalled Samnang, known to most as Sam, as a teen who loved his family and his son, and enjoyed helping other people.
They also recalled his smile and his laugh.
“I will always remember his laugh,” Jordan Potter said. “His laugh hasn’t gone out of my head.”
Samnang Kok was gunned down Jan. 3 in a hallway at Foss High School minutes before classes were to begin after winter break. Kok was shot three times and died in the hallway.
Pierce County prosecutors have charged fellow Foss student Douglas S. Chanthabouly, 18, with first-degree murder. Chanthabouly, who might be schizophrenic, has admitted to police that he killed Kok but hasn’t told detectives why, according to court documents.
Detectives continue to investigate what sparked the shooting but have yet to uncover a motive. Investigators suspect Chanthabouly and Kok, described as acquaintances, had a dispute over money, property or perceived disrespect, police spokesman Mark Fulghum said.
“There’s nothing concrete still,” he said Tuesday.
Chanthabouly has pleaded not guilty and was being held in the Pierce County Jail on $1 million bail.
For those who knew Sam Kok, Tuesday was a day to remember, shed tears and even share a laugh. Handmade cards and pictures lined the tables in the church entrance.
“We lost a true friend but we gained another angel,” one message said.
“R.I.Paradise to the homeboy Samnang Kok,” read another.
Two teens wore white hooded sweatshirts with an artist’s rendering of Kok on the front.
“Just something to remember him for,” said Robert Valenzuela, who’d known Kok for four years. “He’s a good friend. I am going to miss him.”
During the open mike session of the memorial service, Vince Vongdara talked about how Kok helped him build his house but wouldn’t accept any money for it.
“He was like a little brother to me,” Vongdara said.
Brenda Hopkins recalled how Kok and his younger sister used to play their music loudly when they lived next to Hopkins years ago. One of Kok’s favorites was “Lean On Me.”
Hopkins sang the lyrics a cappella, with many in the crowd joining in through their tears.
During one of the lighter moments, classmate Matthew Warren recalled how once, when he didn’t have any money, he went to Fred Meyer with Kok. Kok offered to buy Warren some food. Warren picked out a small item, but Kok kept asking if he wanted something else.
“He was always nice to me,” Warren said.
A former principal and current staff member at Stewart Middle School said Kok was a respectful individual who was a good student and took the responsibility of having a child seriously.
“He made sure his life was important,” said Terry Ellis-Manning, who works in the main office at Stewart. Kok’s 18-month-old son, Makai, and the boy’s mother, Tiari Johnson, sat nearby.
Pastor Ron Hill told the crowd to cherish life.
“Young people, don’t throw your life to the wind,” Hill said. “Live your life wisely because life passes very quickly.”
Stacey Mulick: 253-597-8268