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Federal Way community remembers murdered teen | Slideshow
As Federal Way police continue investigating the murder of 16-year-old Wesley Gennings, many in the community are questioning how a likable, charismatic high school student with an ambition to play in the NFL could end up killed in a Taco Bell parking lot.
“The shooting of a teenage boy [Saturday] night was a tragedy, and I send my sincere condolences to his family, friends and schoolmates at Decatur High School,” said Mayor Jim Ferrell. “Far too often, communities across our country are faced with these types of devastating crimes.”
At 8 p.m. on Saturday, officers responded to the Taco Bell at 2031 SW Campus Drive after receiving several calls reporting gunshots in the area. Gennings was discovered inside a vehicle with a fatal gunshot wound.
Police said witnesses saw two males exit the vehicle Gennings was in around the same time they heard gunshots. The suspects left the area on foot, heading southeast. They are described as being “in their late teens or early 20s” and were wearing dark clothing at the time they were seen.
Federal Way Police Department Commander Brett Hatfield said several detectives are actively investigating this case.
“Investigators believe this was not a random act primarily as the suspect(s) is/are believed to have been in the car with Wesley at the time of the murder,” Hatfield added in an email.
More than 1,300 people have shared a gofundme.com account that was created to help Gennings’ family with funeral expenses. At the time of this writing, more than 80 people have donated $5,100 toward the $8,000 goal.
Gennings was the only child of Lonnie Gennings Strothers and Reno Robinson, said gofundme.com account organizer Angela Marie Sterling, Wesley’s cousin.
“We ask that you keep our family in your thoughts and prayers in our time of need, and we appreciate all the love an support that has been given to our family,” Sterling said, adding that Gennings was a “great kid with an infectious smile that lit up rooms everywhere he went.”
Dreaming about playing in the NFL wasn’t the only aspiration Gennings had, Sterling said. He wanted to take care of his mother and go to college as well.
“Tragically, this dream that he had for himself will not be filled,” she said. “We are all devastated with the passing of Wesley Gennings.”
And while Gennings’ death is generating reactions across Washington state, it’s hit home the hardest.
As a Decatur High School sophomore, Gennings’ death shook the Federal Way Public Schools community, many of whom attended a candlelight vigil Sunday evening.
District officials released a statement Sunday stating the school district was “deeply saddened by the loss of one of our very own student-scholars” and that they extend their sympathies to Gennings’ family, friends and everyone impacted by his death.
“I had the opportunity to spend time with Wesley’s mom on Sunday at their home, and she shared with me that Wesley was the ‘apple of her eye’ and her love and pride in Wesley was apparent,” said Federal Way Public Schools Superintendent Tammy Campbell, adding that Decatur Principal David Brower said Gennings was a positive leader in the classroom and on the football field.
“Wesley was well-known, well-liked, loved and involved in his school community and beyond,” Brower said. “His smile always radiated kindness and optimism. He was a motivated student with a gift for introspection and kindness.”
Gennings attended Olympic View and Silver Lake elementary schools, Saghalie Middle School and Decatur High School, where those who knew him said he challenged himself academically.
Brianna Ward, Gennings’ academic advisor as part of his involvement with Decatur’s AP Academy, said Gennings “really flourished this year” academically and was determined to be successful in the classroom.
The Federal Way native maintained good grades in advanced placement world history, a college-level course, as well as pre-calculus, third-year Spanish and chemistry, all while participating in high school sports.
Gennings played football for two years at Decatur after playing for three years at Saghalie. He had to sit out most of his freshman year due to injury, but he was determined to get back on the field. He returned his sophomore year, telling other he was going to make it big.
“Wes was a great kid,” Decatur head football coach Levi Suiaunoa said. “He was always willing to help. He was kind of like the team psychologist; he was always doling out advice. He was a really smart player and had come a long way in learning the game.
“It’s affected me a bit. As a parent, you just start loving your kids a little bit more.”
Gennings was a defensive leader for Decatur’s junior varsity football team this past season, playing well enough to earn time on the varsity squad as well. Suiaunoa said he was in line to replace the team’s graduating leading tackler at linebacker next season.
“His goal was to play football in college and eventually have a chance at the NFL,” said Decatur’s Athletic Director Korey Sites. “Additionally, he also joined the wrestling team this year, wrestling on Decatur’s formidable junior varsity team.”
On Monday, the football team held a barbecue at the practice field where players were able to reminisce about Gennings. Suiaunoa said his main concerns for now are helping the players and students cope with the loss and helping Gennings’ mother any way they can.
“It’s kind of like, ‘Why Wes?’” Suiaunoa said. “The young man did everything right. He made some mistakes, but that’s a part of life. He always worked through stuff. The last thing I talked with him about was his grades. Some kids in that situation don’t have a plan or they don’t execute it. If Wes had a plan, he was going to do it… We’re going to miss him quite a bit.”
The school district is providing grief counselors for students today, as well as a crisis team who will be on site at Decatur High School and Saghalie Middle School to help students and staff deal with their loss.
Campbell said when events like this occur, it forces school leaders to reflect upon practices of knowing each student-scholar “so that we can be a support in their lives.”
“As a result, I have initiated conversations with key community leaders to discuss how we can find better ways to ensure the safety of our student-scholars,” Campbell said. “We will use this event as an opportunity to learn how we can continually provide the necessary supports our student-scholars need as they navigate the complicated path of high school.”
Anyone with information on Gennings’ murder is encouraged to call the Federal Way Police Department at 253-835-2121. Anonymous tips can also be submitted at www.safecityfw.com.
“Please know that our police department is working hard to find those responsible and bring them to justice,” Ferrell said.
To donate toward Gennings’ funeral expenses, visit www.gofundme.com/4mzy9f64.
A candlelight vigil to remember Wesley Gennings was held at 7 p.m. on Sunday, Feb. 14 at the Taco Bell parking lot. Photos courtesy of Bruce Honda