March 4, 2010

Grief shared for teen who turned his life around


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Photo by John Ewing/Staff Photographer...... Tuesday, September 22, 2009....A memorial for a Deering High School student who died in an automobile accident at the corner of Brighton Ave. and Capisic Street in Portland last weekend.

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Guy Kitoko, 18, a Deering High School senior killed early Sunday morning in a car crash at the intersection of Brighton Avenue and Capisic Street in Portland. Photo courtesy of the family.

Staff Writer

When he was younger, Guy Kitoko ran with a tough crowd. But, over the last three years, he took more personal responsibility, said family members.

He made the honor roll at Deering High School last year and was going to graduate next spring, intent on joining the Marines either right away or after college.

His sisters were stunned to learn Sunday that their brother -- the youngest of seven siblings -- was riding in a car that crossed the center line on Brighton Avenue at 2:35 a.m. and collided head-on with another car.

Kitoko, 18, was killed. Police believe alcohol and speed contributed to the crash.

''It's so painful. You have no idea,'' said his sister Carine Rugema.

Their grief was shared by scores of friends, teammates and classmates at an impromptu vigil Monday night at the corner of Brighton Avenue and Capisic Street, the scene of the crash.

Mourners created a shrine with candles, flowers, rosaries and other offerings, as well as a T-shirt sporting the name of his beloved Deering football team.

''I was amazed by the people who were there. He was definitely loved by many people in the community,'' Rugema said.

Kitoko was quiet and reserved, helpful and immensely respectful of other people, said friends and family members.

Pious Ali of the Maine Interfaith Youth Alliance said he met Kitoko about four years ago, when he served as the teenager's mentor.

''We have this mutual respect,'' Ali said. ''For a teenager to talk to an adult, that means he trusted you.''

Kitoko spent a lot of time with his friends in Riverton Park. When Ali would ask him about trouble he may have gotten into, he would own up to his own part, though never implicate others.

''He was a very honest young man,'' Ali said.

Kitoko was born in Congo to Rwandan parents. Civil war in Congo forced the family to flee, first to a refugee camp in Benin, then to Georgia and finally to Portland in 2003.

Kitoko attended Lincoln Middle School and then Deering, where he enjoyed basketball but especially football.

He was a wide receiver and a special-teams player for the Rams.

His last name, given him by his parents as is traditional in his homeland, means ''handsome,'' and he was aptly named, said his sister.

Despite a difficult adolescence, Rugema said, Kitoko found his way.

''As a teenage boy, with all the hardship, hanging out with the wrong people, he always managed to get his work done,'' Rugema said.

''He got it. He said, 'This is my life,' and was making decisions. He knew what he had to do,'' she said.

''For this to happen, when he's changed so much, we just have questions,'' she said. ''Could I have stopped him?''

Kitoko didn't go out often, she said, and he had a curfew. But their mother was staying at the hospital with their father, who is seriously ill with cancer, she said.

Rugema speculates that Kitoko took advantage of the absence of supervision to stay out late. How he ended up in the car driven by Yannick Mulongo, she doesn't know. Kitoko knew Mulongo, who was also from the Congo, but they were not close friends, Rugema said.

''They were all at a party together,'' she said. ''I talked to kids who were there. Guy didn't want (Mulongo) to drive. How he got into the car, nobody is saying.''

In May, Mulongo, 21, was charged with interference with a police dog for allegedly taunting the dog.

He was at Maine Medical Center on Tuesday, in fair condition with a broken leg. The driver of the other car, Fartun Aden, 31, also was in fair condition at Maine Medical Center.

Police have not brought any charges and say results of the investigation cannot be released until the case is presented to the Cumberland County District Attorney's Office, which will determine whether to bring charges.

Deering Principal Ken Kunin said he and staff members began planning their response to Kitoko's death on Sunday evening after police let them know that a Deering student had been killed in the crash.

The school set up a room where students could go to talk with a counselor, write a note to Kitoko's family or just hang out if they were affected by his death. Counselors reached out to Kitoko's family and friends to offer support.

''A lot of people will have a strong reaction to his death, whether they knew Guy Kitoko or not,'' said Kunin, who described Kitoko as a polite, respectful young man.

Arianne Fazilo said it was sometimes hard to know what was on her brother's mind.

''He never shows his emotions, if he's happy or sad or angry,'' she said.

Kitoko had a close relationship with her son, his nephew, teaching the 8-year-old how to play football and playing basketball with him.

Fazilo said she feels numb.

''I don't feel angry, don't feel mad,'' she said.

But she is confused.

''That shouldn't happen to him,'' she said. ''He doesn't deserve it.''

Visiting hours are set for 5 to 7 p.m. Friday at the Independent Death Care of Maine Chapel, at 471 Deering Ave. in Portland.

Staff Writer David Hench can be contacted at 791-6327 or at:

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