Elvis Kechechian's family asked mourners to wear white to celebrate his life during funeral services Saturday. But it was a tall order. Although most of the nearly 1,000 people who showed up at Saddleback Church obliged on the color scheme, they were in no mood to celebrate.
The crowd was dialed in on somber, and it seemed there was little anyone could do to change that feeling, either at the church or afterward at the cemetery. Certainly not the family, whose loud prayers and tears—at one point slapping the casket in anguish after making their entrance at the end of an hourlong public viewing—set the tone.
Moments of levity were rare, although the largest response came when Kechechian's older brother, Aris, spoke. His voice labored with deep breaths as he followed nine scheduled speakers—and one unscheduled—to the lectern.
"The biggest memory will always be that when we would go somewhere, people would tolerate me just to be with Elvis," Aris said, drawing laughter. "That is no joke."
After the ceremony, Aris described his feelings as "stunned, disbelief."
Emotions also ran high when the funeral moved to El Toro Memorial Cemetery. There, Kechechian's mother, Anjel David, appeared to collapse from sorrow as attendants lowered her son's blue casket into the ground. She was later supported by others as she threw a handful of rose petals into the grave.
In the most poignant moment of the day, she knelt over the grave and kissed two roses. Elvis' father, Vigen Keshishi, then also kissed the flowers, as did Aris. With the three remaining family members' arms around each other, the mother kissed the roses one last time before dropping them atop the casket.
Elvis Kechechian was born in Iran on April 15, 1985. He cut a peaceful picture in the casket, dressed in the gear he wore as strength and conditioning coach for Santa Margarita Catholic High School's ice hockey team.
A personal trainer who lived in Mission Viejo, Kechechian died June 11 when he was stabbed outside an all-night eatery in Lake Forest. Another of his friends, Hossain Saidian, died five days later from wounds received in the same incident, allegedly at the hand of Justin Tombleson, who has been charged with murdering Kechechian and is expected to be charged with murdering Saidian.
The fight broke out after Kechechian and three others, including Aris, entered Albatros Mexican restaurant following a night of bowling and clubbing to celebrate Saidian's 32nd birthday.
There was no mention of the violence, or Tombleson, inside the Refinery—the Saddleback Church theater—which was filled beyond capacity, with the hockey team taking up the right side of the room.
"I heard a couple of stories," said officiating pastor Josh Griffin. "He was quick to forgive debts, quick to forgive others and he gave of himself more than anything else. To carry on Elvis' legacy is to be a hero, to be a role model, to give and to forgive."
Elvis' infectious attitude was a common theme in the eulogies. "By becoming a friend of Elvis, the only type of person you could become was a better person," said Tulio Ceccerelli.
Andrew Kristof, a member of the hockey team, praised Kechchian's "legacy of love, hard work and leadership. ... I want to be like Elvis because I want to touch the lives of others just as he has touched mine."
Shukri Yanni recalled Kechechian's "ability to make us smile through our roughest patches." Speaking to the casket, he added, "You've not only made me a better person, but this community a better community. ... You're alive in all of us."
Aryaz Zomordi said this was not a moment to shed tears. He spoke of his friend's selflessness and "the capacity of his heart."
"With unlimited love to give," Zomordi said, "Elvis never had a bad thought in his heart. He was so pure, it was as if he was not of this world."
And then there was Jeri Rosenbaum.
"For the past four years, I was his mentor and teacher with regard to business life," she said. "But over the past four days, he has been my mentor and teacher with regard to strength and character and personal greatness. Elvis found something special in everyone. He found everyone’s strengths, and focused on those. He didn’t have to look for the good in people, he brought it out in everyone."