December Htoo gripped life the way he wrestled, doing it his way with a relentless smile and energy.
“It didn’t matter what we coaches taught him, he had his own style,” said Zach Davies, his wrestling coach at J.C. Harmon High School in Kansas City, Kan. “He had more natural talent than I’ve seen in a long time.
“He lived in his own world, but it was a big, nice, happy world.”
It’s all gone now, Davies lamented.
The 15-year-old was shot dead in a coin laundry where he worked Friday night.
He had come so far. December’s family escaped to America through an Asian refugee camp in his early childhood, and his happiness grew on everyone, Davies said.
“He was so full of joy,” Davies said. “The maddest part of this is that he came here for a better life — for a safe place.”
December became Kansas City, Kan.’s 33rd homicide victim this year when he was shot four times and left in the laundry in the 2400 block of South 34th Street in the Argentine neighborhood, where his body was discovered Saturday morning.
Those numbers add to the 130 homicides in Kansas City so far in 2017.
“All he wanted to do is follow his dream,” said December’s 14-year-old brother, Kyaw Wah.
December loved wrestling and hoped to become a professional mixed martial arts fighter, he said.
“My brother was a great person,” Kyaw said. “He’s got no enemy. … He’s got great friends. Everybody loved him.”
Kyaw was speaking Sunday outside the laundry where the love many shared for December was collecting in memorials and testimonials.
Classmates from Harmon and others left stuffed animals, balloons and candles alongside a sign reading “RIP December.”
By Monday, memorials were also accumulating on a GoFundMe page to raise money for December’s funeral expenses.
Classmate Diana Interiano, who created the fund-raising page, mourned the loss of December’s joy.
“He was always laughing and smiling,” she told The Star. “If he didn’t know you, he would come up to you and say, ‘Let’s be friends.’ ”
December’s sophomore wrestling season was just getting started. The J.C. Harmon wrestling team had finished its first week of practice when he died.
A pall fell across school Monday as students and teachers all missed “that familiar face,” Davies said.
Not only were his close friends in grief, he said. Even many classmates who didn’t know him well but who had their own experiences being surprised by his acts of kindness grieved too.
December was an intelligent student, fluent in his second language of English. He worked hard “because he enjoyed it,” Davies said.
His daring wrestling style, “running to the beat of his own drum,” had already drawn attention his freshman year, Davies said.
He learned quickly and came with his own style. “He scored on phenomenal wrestlers, and he didn’t know what he’d done,” he said.
Kansas City, Kan., police have called the shooting a homicide and asked for help from members of the public who have information about it.
Anyone with information — particularly anyone who was at the laundromat between 7 p.m. and 10 p.m. Friday — is asked to call police at 913-573-6030 or call the TIPS Hotline at 816-474-TIPS (8477).