When Om Kee Hata's mother saved money to buy him new shoes or clothes, the 17-year-old Myanmar refugee demurred, telling his single mom to spend the money on his four younger siblings instead.
When the leader of his soccer club, Mariya Goodbrake, noticed he was hungry and offered him food, he likewise declined.
But a couple of weeks ago, as Goodbrake handled a run-down bike Hata shared with his three brothers, Hata looked at her and said, "Could you please get me a bike?"
Goodbrake did and planned to bring it to him Monday, July 9.
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Hata never got the bike. He drowned Friday, while swimming at Hillsdale Lake in Miami County, Kan.
"I wished I had not been lazy and had gotten it to him," said Goodbrake, who plans to give the bike to his younger brothers.
Hata wasn't the strongest swimmer, Goodbrake said, but he was smart, and the drowning surprised her. She heard he had grabbed onto another swimmer but dragged him down. The other swimmer broke away to get a breath, losing track of Hata. Details are unclear, however, because police encountered language barriers with witnesses.
Hata came to the U.S. a year ago with his mother and four younger siblings, ages 1 to 15. The Christian family fled religious persecution in Myanmar, a predominantly Buddhist country. Hata's father stayed behind. He was abusive, and the family was given the choice of waiting a few months and going to Australia with him or leaving him behind and coming to America, Goodbrake said. Hata's mother chose America to protect her children.
Hata took on the father-figure role in the family. As they moved from apartment to apartment in Kansas City, his mantra was, "God will provide."
Despite his father's abuse, Hata hoped his dad would join the family here, he once told Goodbrake. He thought that if his dad came to America he would have to work, so he wouldn't have time to beat the children. He wanted to forgive his father.
"This kid had every reason to be angry for the hand that life had dealt him — his abusive father, being persecuted because of their faith," Goodbrake said. "And here is this boy who is talking to me about restoration and forgiveness."
Goodbrake worked with Hata and his family through an organization she started, Global FC, a soccer club for refugee families focused on building a community and support system around them.
She interacts with a lot of refugee children in her work. But Hata was different.
"He was the kid that as soon as the coach would get out of the car he would run over and grab the bag" to carry, Goodbrake said.
That same spirit of respect and graciousness was seen at school and at work.
Hata's English teacher, Doug Bartel, said the teen came to his classroom at East High School in Kansas City nearly every morning to chat and joke around.
"What’s striking is how incredibly happy and vivacious he was at all times," said Bartel, who teaches almost entirely immigrant and refugee students from war-torn countries.
It was nearly impossible to tell how much Hata had been through, Bartel said. Hata leaned heavily on soccer and his faith.
"Soccer was a huge part of his life; that was his outlet," Bartel said.
His coach, John Parker, said Hata was one of the players the club thought would eventually earn a college soccer scholarship. He had a few opportunities recently to play for college coaches.
"As a coach you don’t always get those types of kids," Parker said. "Om Kee took it to another level. He appreciated it so much and gave every bit of his heart and effort and time."
He played through severe injuries to help the team and was eventually named team captain, Parker said.
"He showed everyone and myself that he was the example that everyone needed to strive to be," Parker said.
His leadership skills were evident the moment he arrived as a summer youth ambassador at the Northeast Kansas City Chamber of Commerce, said board president Bobbi Baker.
He found the job, planting and caring for flowers alongside Independence Avenue, to help provide for his family.
"We’re still planting and weeding and watering, and now we’re doing it with a little special effort because that’s what Om Kee did," Baker said.
Funeral services for Hata will be held Saturday. A GoFundMe page set up in his honor aims to raise $20,000 to support his mother and siblings.