VEAZIE, Maine — Far more people Saturday came to mourn John “Bobby” Surles than could fit inside the town’s only church.
Surles, 19, of Bangor died Jan. 28 at Eastern Maine Medical Center less than 30 hours after he was felled by a single gunshot wound to the chest.
His large, extended family scattered from Boston to Eastport sat shoulder to shoulder for the memorial service at Veazie Congregational Church on State Street. Others stood in doorways or congregated outside in the cold.
Most of Surles’ teenage and young adult friends sat on folding chairs in the church basement, where they could hear the service and watch a slide show of family photos. Nearly all of the pictures showed a pre-adolescent Surles smiling and posing for the camera at Little League games, on Christmas mornings, in a backyard wading pool.
Surles, who attended Bangor High School but did not graduate, was a poet and skateboarder, according to his obituary published in the Bangor Daily News.
“I see a piece of Bobby in all of you,” Mike Tracey, 16, of Bangor said during the service. “He taught me so much, like live life like you’ll die tomorrow.”
After the service, Tracey said Surles lived with him for a time. He said the two met several years ago at the Union Street pool before it was rebuilt, and they spent time skateboarding together.
Zachary R. Carr, 18, remains at the Penobscot County Jail charged with killing Surles in a confrontation about 6 p.m. Jan. 27 in front of a Cumberland Street apartment in Bangor. Carr turned himself in to Bangor police two days after the shooting.
Surles’ adoptive parents, Allen and Mary Ann Suddy, who were also his grandparents, have said they believe his slaying may have been gang-related. There were no obvious signs of gang membership at Saturday’s service.
Heather Turner, a family friend, read a poem Surles had written and then addressed rumors of retaliation for his death.
“Please remember to choose the right actions,” said Turner, 35, of Bangor.
After the service, Turner said she had been so nervous about speaking that she had not made her statement as clear as she intended.
“I meant to ask them to choose the hard right and not the easy wrong,” she said.
Six members of the Veazie Police Department directed traffic before and after the service. Officers also discreetly kept an eye on mourners during the service but did not deal with any incidents, Sgt. Keith Emery said after the service.
“The main reason we were there was because of the very large crowd,” he said, “and to make sure people found safe places to park so cars were not clogging up Route 2. We also wanted to make sure people were safely able to cross the street before and after the service.”
The Suddys are members of the church, according to pastor David Fox, who conducted the service. He said it was important to them to have the service at their church.
Surles’ remains were cremated. A committal prayer was said during the service and some soil was placed on the box containing his ashes. Flowers and photographs surrounded his urn on the altar of the tiny church.
Many young mourners paused before the array. They held hands and wept silently before bidding their friend farewell.