Warm memories at funeral

Peyton Strickland's mourners recall a fun-loving free spirit

Staff WritersDecember 7, 2006 

— The daredevil with a trademark grin.

The mechanical genius whose motto was "Don't buy it; build it."

The peacemaker who hated discord among his many friends.

This is the Peyton Strickland more than 1,200 people came to mourn Wednesday, five days after he was shot in the head and killed by deputies from the New Hanover County Sheriff's Office.

"He was always the boy I wanted to have as a son," said Howard Twiggs, a law partner of Don Strickland, Peyton's father.

But law enforcement authorities have said he was the person who in September was charged with punching another man, breaking his jaw, and in November helping take two PlayStation 3 game systems from a UNC-Wilmington student by force.

A tragic reality

On Friday, a heavily armed sheriff's unit came to the Wilmington home that Strickland, 18, shared with friends.

They had an arrest warrant for him and were looking for evidence of the PlayStations. Peyton was shot in his foyer and later died, along with his German shepherd, Blaze.

There was no mention of Strickland's violent death during the two-hour funeral at The Church of the Good Shepherd.

Instead, friends and family took turns telling stories about a kid who lived life in fast-forward.

A kid with energy

As a child playing ice hockey, Strickland lamented that he wasn't very good at it because the only way he knew how to stop was by running into a wall.

At the beach he would sleep in swim trunks to be the first in the water every morning.

And the engine he attached to his mother's mountain bike so it started like a lawnmower didn't originally come with a plan for slowing down, either.

"He was just the most ready-to-go kid ever," said J.P. Trehy, who knew Strickland and his older sisters from school.

Peyton Strickland smiled at his funeral-goers from pictures posted in the church lobby: Peyton with his prom date, Peyton fishing, Peyton hugging his truck, Peyton with Blaze.

The dog's cremated remains were in an urn next to one holding his master's ashes on the altar.

Don Beskind, another of Don Strickland's law partners and a family friend, said the dog wouldn't eat and went into a funk when Peyton Strickland went to Wilmington to attend Cape Fear Community College. Blaze went to live with him in Wilmington and immediately perked up.

Most people outside the church didn't want to comment on how Strickland died. But Jon Mehta, 20, a friend from Jordan High School, said he thinks the deputies should not only be fired but also charged with murder.

An 'inexcusable' death

"What happened is horrible and a great injustice," Mehta said. "The police went in there assuming he was guilty. I just think it's inexcusable."

During the ceremony, though, speaker after speaker emphasized that the funeral was intended to be a celebration.

Kevin Moore, a family friend, joked about all the things Peyton taught others, such as, "There's no such thing as too much bass," referring to his love of blaring car speakers.

And: "Lynyrd Skynyrd never had a guitar solo that was too long."

On the back of the memorial bulletin were lyrics to the band's most famous song, "Free Bird" -- appropriately, the one with the famously long guitar solo.

The words "Bye, bye, it's been a sweet love" were printed under a picture of Peyton, his back turned, paddling a kayak into the endless expanse of a crystal blue sea.

Staff writer Matt Dees can be reached at 956-2433 or matt.dees@newsobserver.com.

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