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Family, young friends say goodbye

Stephen D. Tomlinson, 13, who was strangled in a park, was remembered as a boy with deep religious faith.

By JEFFREY S. SOLOCHEK
Published December 14, 2005


TAMPA - Family, friends and well-wishers filled Calvary Community Church Wednesday to pay last respects to Stephen D. Tomlinson, a 13-year-old boy killed near his Carrollwood home last week.

More than 150 people attended the funeral, where a dozen floral bouquets surrounded the boy's simple wooden casket.

Pastor Hank Lindstrom welcomed them warmly.

"I know your presence is a comfort to all the family and friends who are deeply going to miss him," Lindstrom said, before leading the congregation in Amazing Grace and reading two Bible passages.

There was much sobbing and barely a dry eye in the church, as Lindstrom spoke, with much of his focus on Stephen's religious faith, and the afterlife.

"I was told by his grandmother that Stephen carried his Bible to school in his backpack every day," Lindstrom said, noting that the Bible had been placed in Stephen's hands in his casket.

Friends and family members spoke through the pastor, who read aloud the cards that they wrote as they entered the sanctuary past a homemade poster of family photos and the printed lyrics to the song "Miss Me But Let Me Go."

"I love you Stephen and I know you are in a better place," his father, Ron, wrote. "I'll see you soon. Hold the gate open and wait on me."

Ron Tomlinson, a single parent who raised his son, remained somber throughout the service and as he and other pallbearers took the casket from the church to the hearse afterward. Before the funeral began, he quietly welcomed some of those who came to remember Stephen.

Among the mourners were neighbors who comforted Tomlinson as he watched deputies search Logan Gate Park for clues in Stephen's death. Also there were teenagers in school uniforms and braces, who looked uncomfortable at a service for someone their own age. Some had barely a passing knowledge of Stephen, but just wanted to pay their respects.

One wrote about how Stephen once refreshed a washcloth with water to keep her cool. Another wrote how she wished she had the chance to know him better. Several just wrote that they miss Stephen.

"We love you and we will see that justice is served," wrote his brother, Christopher.

"Stephen is in heaven because he trusted Christ as his savior," Lindstrom said.

He invited others to take the same step, and closed with these words: "Although his death was too early and tragic ... Lord, you've turned it around and let it be a means where all these friends and all these loved ones have come to accept the faith of Stephen."

The Sheriff's Office had no further public comments on the case Wednesday. Earlier in the week, Sheriff David Gee announced that Stephen had been strangled, but he had no suspects. A group of neighborhood teens discovered his beaten body in Logan Gate Park, just blocks from Stephen's home, shortly before 8 p.m. Dec. 8.

A person of interest has been interviewed. No arrests have been made.

- Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at 813 296-5304 or solochek@sptimes.com

[Last modified December 14, 2005, 18:17:16]


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