They were young but sad faces that gathered Thursday at the Thorman Elementary school auditorium to say goodby to two boys who were friends and classmates.
Nearly 600 students--second- through fifth-graders--met in an assembly to remember William Barr Huffman, 11, and Frank Balistreri Huffman, 8, two Tustin boys who died Monday as they slept, shot by the man who had been their foster parent and legal guardian for 7 years.
Leon E. Huffman, 60, shot the boys and his 86-year-old mother, Alice Huffman, then turned the gun on himself, reportedly after he grew despondent over his failing health. Huffman died of his wounds late Monday at Western Medical Center in Santa Ana. Huffman’s wife, Betty, 57, was at work at the time of the shootings.
Billy and Frankie, as they were known to their classmates, were in the fourth and second grades and had attended Thorman Elementary since kindergarten.
They were remembered by their classmates and teachers as hard workers who were loved for their ready smiles and the concern they showed for their friends.
“They didn’t always earn straight A’s but they worked hard to do their very best,” said Principal William Wingo. “They shared their materials, their toys, their fun and themselves with others.”
Christine Woodbury, who was Frankie’s teacher, and Sean Hilliard, 10, his best friend, carried a basket of red flowers from classmates and each petal carried a personal memorial. Woodbury described Frankie as a “kind, polite and generous child.”
Sally Mazza, Billy’s fourth-grade teacher, cried as she recalled the athletic, playful youngster: “I knew him to be a warm, loving, enthusiastic student, eager to please and with a real desire to do well. He will be missed by everyone,” she said.
Mazza said her fourth-grade students have had a difficult time handling the death. “There has been grief, anxiety, the fear of not understanding, but needing questions to be answered,” Mazza said. “It has been a subdued environment for everyone.”
Mazza praised the quick response of district officials in providing counseling services for students. Counselors have gone classroom-to-classroom answering questions about the incident and reassuring students that they are not likely to experience such a tragic occurrence again. The counselors will be available as long as they are needed, Wingo told the students.
Attached to the memorial service program were reflections of students about Billy and Frankie.
“The thing I will always remember about William was when he was my partner for the partner speech,” wrote Cameron Verdi, a fourth-grader. “I learned a lot about him that I never knew. He was a good boy, and I miss him already.”
Erin Corwin, another fourth-grader, wrote: “I really liked William. He was nice and a delightful boy. He tried really hard to get the good citizenship awards. I will cherish the good memories I have of him.”
Sean Hilliard had known Frankie since kindergarten and the two became friends because “Frankie made me feel welcome,” he said.
The students have established a memorial fund for the two brothers. Displayed on the auditorium stage was a 4-foot pine tree that will be planted on the school grounds in their honor. Next to the tree will stand a pedestal with a plaque that will read, “In Memory of Two Very Super Boys Who Touched Our Lives, William Barr Huffman and Frank Balistreri Huffman, October, 1988.”
The boys’ natural mother, Judy Sones, 28, was scheduled to arrive in California late Thursday from Wisconsin, where she now lives. She has told relatives that she would like to have the bodies returned to her for burial.
Although the Huffmans obtained legal care over the boys in 1984, parental rights revert to the natural mother on their death, according to Gene Howard, director of children’s services for the Orange County Social Services Agency.
Billy and Frankie had led an unstable life with Sones before being placed with the Huffmans in 1981, according to relatives.
Dorothy Raschke, 65, the boys’ natural grandmother, said the children, who are half brothers, were taken away from her daughter during a difficult period in her life.
“She was in a family situation that was harmful to her and to the children at that time,” Raschke said. “But she did not want to give up her children and always loved them.”