AUBURN — Days after his death in a New Hampshire car accident, Kobe Huynh is being remembered as a resilient young man who always smiled.
At Auburn Middle School on Tuesday, students were still dealing with the loss of their classmate, according to Principal James Hand and seventh-grade guidance counselor Sadie Grealish.
Having graduated from Fairview Elementary and entering Auburn Middle School in September, Huynh quickly left an impression among students and staff.
“He just had a huge heart,” Grealish said. “Kobe was always willing to help everybody out, help his peers, help staff — great sense of humor, always trying to make everybody laugh; just very kind.”
Grealish described Huynh as a boy who was always very upbeat and positive and one who, “literally always had a smile on his face.”
Laughing, Hand recalled an interaction with Huynh that occurred before February vacation.
“Kobe was the type of kid that, as he was walking by me and he said, ‘Hey, Mr. Hand, you want to have lunch with me?’ I said, ‘Sure’ so an hour later, I go into the lunch room and he’s sitting with a bunch of kids and I say, ‘Kobe, you ditched me!’ so he goes to stand up, and I say, ‘No, no, you can eat with your friends, we’ll do it another time.”
Despite the recent tragedy, the two educators smiled and laughed while recalling their times with Huynh. Hand and Grealish said he was very close to his adult connections at school.
Over the past two days, Grealish said students and staff have been writing memories of Huynh and posting them.
Some memories and personal messages were posted on a large, yellow sheet of paper hung in a hallway. Two other teams within the seventh grade transformed their messages into origami cranes. A box full of cranes sat on the conference table in Hand’s office.
“They’re delivering these to the wake on Thursday,” Hand said. “They picked the crane because it’s a symbol of peace.”
Hand pointed out one crane with writing visible on the wings that said, “You always knew how to put a smile on my face.”
“That encapsulates him,” Hand said.
Grealish said when the news of Huynh’s passing was given to the students, she and Hand visited each of the three seventh-grade teams. Posters were then placed outside each of the three teams’ rooms for each student to write a message.
School counselors from the middle school as well as surrounding elementary schools were made available in the school library for students who needed additional support.
With a natural talent for making friends, Grealish said, “(Huynh) had that special part where he made everybody feel as though they were his best friend and that was just a very special quality that he had.”
The seventh-grade wing had reminders of Huynh everywhere. On one wall hung the yellow poster filled with students’ thoughts of their classmate.
Opposite was a locker decorated by Huynh with a handmade family crest divided into sections labeled “Never give up, My family, Respect, School and Sports.”
Below the crest, a colored heart was inscribed, “Kobe, forever missed.” Another adorned with multiple hearts in a rainbow of colors said, “We will miss you.”
In a nearby classroom hung a self-portrait of Huynh as well as an intriguing piece of equipment. A device called a Vigo stood against a wall. It resembled an upright vacuum cleaner with a video screen at the top.
Grealish explained that the device, provided by the nonprofit Grahmtastic Connection, allowed Huynh to operate the classroom device remotely from an iPad or laptop computer when health reasons prevented him from attending school.
Like Facetime on a robot, Huynh was able to remotely navigate the classroom and interact with his peers face to face, as if he were there.
Hand said that just two days before Huynh’s fatal accident, he attended a day of snowmobiling with his classmates and teachers before going to see his father.
Bates baseball coach Mike Leonard recalled his time with Huynh, a newly adopted team member who was supposed to attend team functions this season.
“Kobe was a really special kid,” Leonard said, “although we only just met him earlier this month, it was clear that he had an unbelievable resiliency and toughness about him that went far beyond his age and stature.
“He brought such positive energy to our group and I know our entire team was looking forward to getting to know him more. We are all very sad about his sudden passing and our thoughts and prayers go out to his family.”
Bates junior and baseball player Alex Parker said he was impressed with Huynh’s determination.
“Although I only got to meet Kobe once, his presence had an immediate impact on myself and my teammates,” Parker said.
“Kobe had so much heart and determination; seeing him battle so much adversity and always wear a smile on his face brought positive energy to every room he entered.
“We’re definitely going to work our hardest this year and play with the heart and desire that Kobe showed everyday,” Parker said.
On Tuesday, Huynh’s father Nghia Huynh, was charged in New Hampshire with negligent homicide in Kobe’s death. He is also charged with felony aggravated operating under the influence of alcohol, New Hampshire police said.
A celebration of Kobe Huynh’s life will be held Thursday from 5 to 8 p.m. at Hobbs Funeral Home in South Portland.