Community mourns Cheverus student who died after oral surgery; questions linger over sudden death

Posted March 04, 2014, at 11:48 a.m.
Benjamin E. LaMontagne
Courtesy | The Forecaster
Benjamin E. LaMontagne

PORTLAND, Maine — It could take several weeks before the state’s medical examiner determines the cause behind the sudden death of a Cheverus High School student last month.

Benjamin E. LaMontagne, 18, died Feb. 22 at his home on Long Island. About 1,000 mourners attended his funeral Friday, Feb. 28, at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, where the promising young musician was eulogized by his father and the president of his high school.

An autopsy was performed on LaMontagne on Feb. 24 in Augusta, but an official determination has been postponed “pending further studies,” said Mark Belserene, spokesman for the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.

The studies could include a viral culture and histology, in addition to a toxicology report, Belserene said Monday. Histology is the examination of tissue by microscope.

“In a case like this, we may run many tests,” Belserene said. “Until we scientifically check all the avenues, we’re not going to give out any partial information.”

At about 1 p.m. Feb. 22, LaMontagne’s mother, Lynn, called 911 to report that her son was not breathing. A preliminary investigation revealed no indications of foul play, according to a news release from the Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office.

LaMontagne’s obituary said the cause of death was complications from oral surgery.

Belserene said it is protocol for the state medical examiner to review cases of sudden death among young, otherwise healthy people.

On Friday, every pew in the 900-person-capacity cathedral was full. Scores of others stood at the back of the nave, or in a side chapel, to remember LaMontagne in song, prayer and eulogy.

Students from Cheverus High School performed in a choir in honor of the 18-year-old multi-instrumentalist, who was due to enroll this fall in Sunderman Conservatory of Music at Gettysburg College in Gettysburg, Pa.

From the pulpit, the Rev. William Campbell, president of Cheverus High School, recalled when LaMontagne asked him to write a letter of recommendation for a college application.

“I happily agreed, knowing it would be an easy recommendation to write,” Campbell said before reading the letter aloud.

LaMontagne was a “keeper,” he said.

“Any school would be a better school for having Ben as a student,” Campbell read. “Benjamin is a young man of notable character, intellect and talent.”

Campbell, who recalled playing duets with LaMontagne on soprano saxophones just a week before his death, said he envisions a heaven where LaMontagne is wearing an Irish knit sweater, a tweed fisherman’s cap and a second-hand scarf.

“He will likely have convinced a choir of angels to let him accompany their singing with musical tweets from his tin whistle,” Campbell said.

Peter LaMontagne eulogized his son in a clear and steady voice. He began by thanking friends, family, Cheverus students and neighbors, saying that he and his wife had been “humbled by the outpouring of love, friendship, fellowship and faith.”

The family was drawing strength from that sense of community, he said. From the moment of their son’s death, the family has been surrounded by support from neighbors, grief counselors and clergy, who performed a mass in the LaMontagnes’ living room that same day, he said.

“I do feel stronger when we’re together like this,” the father told the congregation. “I feel very comfortable right now looking out at all these faces, because of our faith.”

LaMontagne spoke of his son with humor and poise, sharing a “bucket list” from his son’s journal. The high school senior’s goals included building a “self-sustaining garden,” performing marine biology experiments, creating new forms of music, hiking and following the will of the Holy Trinity.

“It shows you what a sweet young man he was,” he said.

LaMontagne was born at Mercy Hospital in Portland on July 22, 1995, and spent his first year in China, where his parents served at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing. He was a National Honor Society member, played in the band and jazz combo at Cheverus, studied bass clarinet and voice at the Portland Conservatory of Music, performed twice with the Portland Youth Symphony Orchestra, was twice named to the All New England Band, and twice played bass clarinetist for the Maine All State Band.

He was proficient in clarinet, saxophone, bassoon, English concertina and the penny whistle, which he played on the streets of Portland as a busker with fellow Cheverus student Christian Cilley.

LaMontagne was a member of Cheverus’ varsity sailing team and was an apprentice lobsterman on Long Island. He also performed for the Long Island summer theater.

 

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