Kennett teen mourned in sea of blue, white

His smile lit up a room, his laughter energized those around him, and his compassion infused all within reach.

Brian R. Ayllon shows off his uniform as a member of the Tournament of Roses Honor Band, which played at the 2015 Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Ca.

Brian R. Ayllon shows off his uniform as a member of the Tournament of Roses Honor Band, which played at the 2015 Rose Bowl in California.

So the death of 16-year-old Brian Roberto Ayllon of Kennett Square on Dec. 22 of natural causes sent shock waves through the Kennett and Unionville school districts and beyond. And on a rain-swept Tuesday evening, Dec. 29, hundreds upon hundreds gathered at St. Rocco Catholic Church in Avondale.

From 4 to 7 p.m., a steady stream of mourners expressed condolences to Brian’s parents, Roberto and Maricela Avila Ayllon; his brother, Edson; and his sister, Kassandra. They filed past the casket, where the Kennett High junior lay in his beloved marching band uniform, his plumed hat resting on his chest. The sight reduced many to tears.

Among the mourners were members of the Kennett school district administration, including Superintendent Barry Tomasetti and Assistant Superintendent Michael Barber. “He had a lot of friends,” said Tomasetti as he looked around the crowd.

Kennett Square Police Officer Johnathan Ortiz said he was representing the Kennett Township Police Department, where he works part time. Ortiz, a relative of Brian’s, was on duty in Kennett Township the night that police responded to the Ayllon residence following a 9-1-1 call for medical assistance.

“I wanted to pay respects on behalf of the police department,” Ortiz said.

The audience also included parents and students from Unionville High, several of whom stopped in before rushing back to catch the buses taking them to the Gator Bowl. A year ago, Brian was in Pasadena, selected for the Tournament of Roses Honor Band, an ensemble with members from both school districts. More recently, he celebrated Kennett High’s first-ever win at the Cavalcade of Bands, a prestigious regional competition.

“He was so much fun to be around, and the Unionville band members became very close to him,” Unionville High School Band Director Scott Litzenberg said, adding that his students were struggling to cope with the loss. “We all will miss him and have his family and friends in our prayers."

Mourners gather around one of the photo collages at the viewing for Brian R. Ayllon, 16, of Kennett Township.

Mourners gather around one of the photo collages at the viewing for Brian R. Ayllon, 16, of Kennett Township.

The Ayllon family had requested that people wear Kennett High’s colors — royal blue and white — or bright colors to the viewing, in keeping with Brian’s outlook, and many did so. Although some visitors came and left, others sat in the pews, maintaining a silent vigil that was occasionally punctuated by sobbing.

Some lingered by two large photo collages. One featured images that illustrated aspects of Brian’s personality, such as friendly, happy, gentle, and grateful. The second showed his passions: singing, playing the flute, writing poetry, and even publishing a novel. In addition to the marching band, Brian participated in Kennett High’s A Cappella Choir; Farrago, its literary magazine; and its Walk In kNnowledge (WIN), a guidance program.

Katie Hahn, who teaches eighth grade language arts at Kennett Middle School, said she encourages students to accept an annual challenge posed by the Council of Letters and Lights to write a novel during the month of November. She said Brian exceeded all the goals that were set, winning the ability to have “Those Who Learn” published and promoted on Amazon.

“He was a model student, both academically and personally. He led by example and stood out among his peers,” Hahn said, adding that she has used him as an example of what can be accomplished for subsequent classes. “Perhaps the most memorable image of Brian, even beyond his amazing novel accomplishment, is his laugh. It was so genuine and pure – and loud. It came from absolute joy. I will miss him.”

Kathy Do, the executive director of After the Bell, an after-school program for Kennett middle-school students, echoed those sentiments. Do said Brian, who benefitted from the program as a middle-schooler, returned as a standout volunteer in high school. He also volunteered at Tick Tock Early Learning Center and the Center for Creative Arts in Yorklyn, De.

“He was just so great with the kids,” Do said, wistfully recalling his infectious smile and laugh. “You always knew when he was in the room.”

By 7 p.m., when the Mass began, all of the seats in the church, which holds about 520, were taken, and people stood along both walls, spilling out into the lobby. Nearly 80 members of the Kennett High Marching Band filed solemnly into pews reserved at the front of the church.

Whitney Hoffman, an incoming Kennett Township supervisor whose son is in the band, said she believed it would take quite some time for the group to recover from the shock and sadness. “This is a tough day,” she said. “But it’s good to see the community come together to support the family.”

Not surprisingly, music played a pivotal role in the service. In addition to the church choir and music ensemble, a group of faculty members from Kennett’s high school and middle school programs joined forces to participate in the Mass.

A photo collage highlights the personality traits of Brian R. Allyon, who died last week of natural causes at the age of 16.

A photo collage highlights the personality traits of Brian R. Allyon, who died last week of natural causes at the age of 16.

Katie Soukup, a Kennett High music teacher, said Jessica Williams, a faculty member who works with the music programs at both the high school and middle school, brought everyone together at the request of the Ayllon family. Soukup said Brian’s impact on the music programs was substantial. “We need more kids like him,” she said. “He did a lot for everyone.”

Monsignor Frank Depman, the pastor of St. Rocco Church, remembered many milestones in Brian’s life, including his baptism. One of his most telling recollections dated back to a time when he drove students, including Brian, to religious education classes. He said he frequently had to repeat the loop on Chandler Mill Road because Brian was so busy socializing with his friends on the bus that he missed his stop.

Nancy Ayllon, one of Brian’s many cousins, read “Stay Open,” a poem he wrote about the importance of appreciating life. Brian’s mother recited it in Spanish.

With a prescience that belied his age, Brian urged people to take the knowledge gained from negativity and use it to lessen suffering.

The last stanza says:

“You were born here

In this world

For some reason,

But while you’re here

You might as well enjoy it

By taking it all in

And never letting go."

“I will treasure that poem,” his mother said after the service. She added that she was fighting to maintain her son’s upbeat attitude.

“He always wanted everyone to be happy,” she said. “I only saw him angry a couple of times, and it didn’t last because that’s not who he was.”

“We were so blessed to have Brian in our lives,” Nancy Ayllon said. She set up a Gofundme page – https://www.gofundme.com/zpg2epfw – to help defray the funeral expenses. On it, she wrote: “Our family has lost a loved one, heaven has gained an angel.”

In memory of Brian, a contribution may be made to the Friends of Music, c/o Kennett High School, 100 E. South St., Kennett Square, Pa., 19348.

 

 

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