Franklin students, teacher honor slain classmate with hand-built casket

After the killing of Ryan Dela Cruz, woodshop teacher Mike Lawson led classmates and staff in the heartbreaking task.

A Franklin High School staff member signs the lid of the casket made for Ryan Dela Cruz. Dela Cruz, a Franklin student, was shot and killed in Seattle on June 2, 2018. (All photos courtesy of Jennifer Wiley)

The messages are scrawled inside the lid of the casket.

“Fly High Angel. Rest in Paradise.”

“You will be missed. You will always be with us.”

“Dear Ryan — Your legacy lives on.”

But before the students and staff at Seattle’s Franklin High School wrote these final messages to Ryan Dela Cruz they built the 17-year-old’s casket themselves.

It’s a task woodshop teacher Mike Lawson is all too familiar with. Dela Cruz’s marks the sixth casket he’s built for Franklin students and staff.

“I’ve tried to use my talents to help everyone,” Lawson said.

Franklin Principal Jennifer Wiley shared photos of the students building the casket in a Facebook post.

“This is a very intimate part of the FHS community that we don't typically share," read Wiley's post, which was accompanied by photos of students building the casket. "Although we typically do not share the more intimate details of our collective journey, more and more I am beginning to feel a sense of urgency to capture the amazing stories that unfold in our midst."

Ryan Dela Cruz

Dela Cruz was shot and killed in the early morning hours of June 2 while playing games with friends in Martha Washington Park. He was only weeks away from his high school graduation.

On June 8, Franklin students wore orange, the color of the anti-gun violence movement, and joined staff and community members in a protest march.

Lawson described building the casket as a cathartic experience. It can help the students, many of whom are feeling helpless or hopeless, to do something tangible, he said.

Anyone in the school was welcome to join in. Some students worked during woodshop class, others just volunteered their time.

When he wasn’t teaching, it was Lawson alone in the classroom building Dela Cruz’s final resting place.

“The goal was to take the burden away from the family,” Lawson said. “Franklin is a village. We take care of our own here.”

In her Facebook post, Wiley wrote:

Today as we scribed our final wishes to Ryan, Mike, in a shaken voice said, "I really don't want to get good at this." At this moment, like many moments at FHS, I knew I wasn't going home the same person I was when I left home this morning.

Ryan Dela Cruz

"Godspeed, Ryan. Your dream to serve your community/country, your dream to be part of something bigger than yourself, now rests within us.


We will say our final goodbyes this Sunday, Father's Day. All Hail, Franklin High School. Hail.

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