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Family and friends say goodbye by candlelight

Friends and family of John Huntwork listened to stories about the 20-year-old Bremerton man during a candlelight memorial at Evergreen Park last Saturday. He died last July. - Leslie Kelly
Friends and family of John Huntwork listened to stories about the 20-year-old Bremerton man during a candlelight memorial at Evergreen Park last Saturday. He died last July.
— image credit: Leslie Kelly

John Huntwork loved to walk along the water at the end of Elizabeth Avenue in Bremerton.

“It was just the place he’d go to think,” said his mother, Donna Huntwork. “He liked to walk the beach and pick up rocks.”

And it was there that her only son, John Harold Huntwork, 20, died.

Last Saturday, more than 100 people came out to honor Huntwork at a candlelight memorial at Evergreen Rotary Park in Bremerton, just blocks from where he died.

No one is sure what happened, but his mother thinks he slipped and was carried out with the tide.

“Everyone keeps telling me he must have hit the undertow,” she said. “It was dark and I’m sure it’s all just a tragic accident.”

In fact, the following day, after he didn’t come home and after a friend found his car parked nearby, law enforcement officers told her that they had received 911 calls.

“Boaters reported that they could hear someone calling out for help,” she said. “I was told that the police went down there and that the people who called 911 were looking for someone in trouble. But they didn’t find anyone.”

Her son was reported missing on July 27. His body was recovered just over a month later when it was pulled from Dye’s Inlet near Tracyton.

Kitsap County Coroner Greg Sandstrom said the cause of death is pending toxicology results, but that no foul play is suspected.

Huntwork described her son as a peaceful person who would do anything to help someone else. He played high school football for Bremerton High School, but “didn’t like to hit anyone.”

“He was just too nice to play football,” she said. “He played linebacker and he had to hit others, but he really didn’t like to.”

He was a big guy, she said, at six foot three inches and about 180 pounds. He loved the robotics class in high school and competed in building “fluffy robots.”

“He wanted to be a mechanical engineer,” she said. “He really liked the robotics competitions and planned on taking classes at Olympic College. I told him as much as he liked rocks he should think about being a geologist. But he liked building things.”

He attended schools in the area and graduated from Bremerton High School in 2011. He spent a year at the University of Idaho. But after that year he decided to come home and save some money by living at home, working part time and taking classes at OC, his mother said.

At the memorial, football coaches remembered him as someone who worked after the normal practices because he want to get better at the sport.

There was a peace sign of candles in small jars near where they gathered. Memory boards showed photos of John from his childhood. And everyone who attended took home a small bag of rocks from John’s collection.

Friends remembered him a the “gentle giant” because he was kind, cared for others and was gentle even though he was a big guy.

One friend even shared that she had him listed as “Jesus John” in her caller ID, because he looked like the common portrait of Jesus with his long hair.

Lisa Gordon, a Bremerton High School teacher recalled John as a good student despite dealing with dyslexia, who was willing to help others.

“What a beautiful night to remember John,” she said. “This is a tragic loss. He was a student, but he was also a teacher. He taught us to be kind to each other.”

Friend Cassie Hoefner was one of the last people to see John alive.

“He came over and we watched movies,” she said. “He was in a good mood and seemed happy. When he left, we just said ‘see you later.’”

Childhood friend Max Cowdery recalled when John challenged him to a hot sauce drinking contest.

“He definitely won. But he was nice about it,” Cowdery said. “I was like his little brother. I’m going to miss him so much.”

John’s father, also named John, is a retired submariner from Bangor. His mother grew up in the Tacoma-Port Orchard area, but when her husband was stationed at Bangor, they met, later married and moved to Bremerton. They also have four daughters.

Huntwork said her son was well liked and that many friends and former teachers have called or come by to share thoughts and stories. She said her son’s dog, Devlin, is especially sad and just “mopes around.”

As his friends shared memories, she said a special memory came to mind for her.

“He was in junior high and waiting for the school bus with his sister,” she said. “He saw a cat that had been hit by a car and was hurt. But the bus came so he got on the bus and went to school.

“But when he got to school, he said he kept thinking about the cat so he ran all the way back to the bus stop and wrapped the cat in his jacket and brought it home for me to take to the vet. Now,’ she said, “how many teenage boys would do something like that?”

Her son always saw the best in people and would do anything for anybody, she said.

“He touched a lot of people,” she said. “He was just a good kid with a great smile.”

 

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