The life and time of Tope Akinlosotu | Nandell Palmer

As seen at Federal Way High School in memory of Tope Akinlosotu - Andy Hobbs/Federal Way Mirror
As seen at Federal Way High School in memory of Tope Akinlosotu
— image credit: Andy Hobbs/Federal Way Mirror

Uuph’n! Uuph’n! Uuph’n! I couldn’t resist the chorus of sniffling that punctuated the air as a horde of students, teachers, parents, friends, and well-wishers descended on the grounds of Federal Way High School at the candlelight vigil on Aug. 6.

Like a well-rehearsed orchestra, the sniffles harmoniously weaved their way through the crowd of about 700 people, paying tribute to the dearly beloved Temitope (Tope) Raphael Akinlosotu.

There was no evidence of a conductor, but no doubt the staccato music of sighs, sobs, and moans was silently conducted by the maestro himself — Tope.

Macho guys wept openly as tears washed down their faces, drenching their shirts. Girls hugged in groups, and asked why Tope.

Uuph’n! Uuph’n! Uuph’n! Nearly 16 years ago, the world had received a rare gem in the form of Tope, who was born in Nigeria, West Africa, on Sept. 17, 1996. Tope emigrated to Federal Way with his family in March 2005.

This boy wonder was registered in the Federal Way School District, and had made his mark in every sense of the word. He attended Mirror Lake and Twin Lake elementary schools, Sacajawea Middle School, and Federal Way High School.

Uuph’n! Uuph’n! Uuph’n! An all-star sportsman and stellar student academically, Tope competed among some of the best in the district, state, and nation. He became freshman president, and middle school football and basketball captains, among other noted appointments.

Uuph’n! Uuph’n! Uuph’n! Were he not to become a star at the 2016 Olympics in Brazil, Tope would have definitely found cushy positions in government, academia, law, or the diplomatic corps.

The coroner’s report will perhaps state that the charismatic boy died of drowning on the evening of Sunday, Aug. 5, 2012. But what the report is unable to tell you is that the 6-foot-3, 186-pound Tope had permanently changed lives near and far.

Nobody was ever too old or too young to evade Tope’s attention. There was nothing fake about him. What you saw was what you got. He will be best remembered for his encouraging words, bear hugs, megawatt smiles, and great sense of humor.

His cousin, Wole, showed me Tope’s last text to him, less than three hours before his passing. I knew of no other teenager who composed his text messages in perfect English.

“I want to tell you something, and this will perhaps hurt our friendship. But I must get it off my chest,” Tope began his missive. Wole read the long text, wondering what had he done to jeopardize their relationship. Having been worked up for nothing, Tope’s question in the end was simply asking: “Which soda do you prefer, Coke or Pepsi?”

Uuph’n! Uuph’n! His funeral service at Christian Faith Center last Friday saw another great outpouring of support. The church was packed with his family, principal, teachers, and fellow schoolmates.

Some looked down on the printed program as they fought back tears. Others reflected on the video montage of his life. And still others had a hard time believing that he was gone despite the gray metal casket ominously reminding them that it was so.

Less than two miles away, at the Christ the King Bible Fellowship, another Federal Way funeral service was under way — that of Marques Weekly. It is estimated that more than 700 people attended that memorial as well.

What are the odds that two young men that I knew would drown on the same day and have their funeral services at the exact time and city?

Tope and my two younger boys ran track together, while Marques and my oldest boy sang together in the same choir, and grew up in the same youth group. We had all fellowshipped together at various times.

Death can come across as being cold and lonely. For that mile-long motorcade from Federal Way to Mt. Olivet Cemetery in Renton, there were other movements that changed the direction of the symphony.

I strongly doubt there’s any power on Earth that can ever subdue a mother’s primal scream for her deceased child. The boy’s mom wailed, and the music crescendoed. Ten minutes after the pastor committed Tope’s remains to the Earth, it was all over. Yes, just like that.

Uuph’n! That afternoon, the lifeless body that once possessed the hope and dreams that had changed our world, was ensconced in a shallow grave. Student pallbearers stared in belief, some throwing flower petals onto the casket, and seemingly refused to budge.

According to relatives, Tope means “Thank God for giving us this child.” Let it be known that not only his parents will be singing this paean.

It has been our collective joy to celebrate Tope’s sharing nearly 16 years of his life with us. Replacing uuph’n with hahahahaha will be a long time coming.

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