Friends and Family Say Goodbye to David Ritcheson

A Spring teenager who jumped to his death from a cruise ship last week was remembered Tuesday as a strong, intelligent and lovable young man whose legacy may not be complete yet. As Houston Public Radio's Jack Williams reports, David Ritcheson's funeral was a celebration of his life and hope for the future of pending legislation that could change the nation's hate crimes.

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Dozens of friends and classmates from Klein Collins High School fought back tears and gave hugs of support as they remembered Ritcheson at a funeral service in northwest Houston. For relatives like cousin Felix Fernandez, saying goodbye to the 18-year-old who survived a horrific attack in 2006 was especially hard.

"We lost a very strong young man and it's going to take, actually, we're never going to forget."

It had not been an easy year for Ritcheson, who underwent more than 40 surgeries to repair internal damage inflicted during the attack by two other teens who are now serving long prison sentences. Earlier this year, he testified before the House Judiciary Committee in support of a hate crimes bill that would make it a federal crime to attack someone based on race and an number of other factors. Ritcheson family attorney Carlos Leon says there's a lot of work to do.

"We need to teach people that have been victimized like David that not only do they have to trust in their family, but they have to trust in anybody who wants to help them. Hopefully with some new law, we'll keep his name not only out there attached to something that is a good law that will prevent hate crimes like this from happening again, but also arm our prosecutors and our government with a little bit better tools to deal with these sort of hate crimes. I think David's name being attached to that law is going to further his legacy and then we just on a personal level have to remember what David stood for."

Leon and Fernandez say they still don't know what caused Ritcheson to end his life July 1st, but say he was the kind of person who wanted everyone around him to be happy and didn't always share what he was feeling inside. Houston Congresswoman Sheila Jackson-Lee is the author of pending legislation that she calls "David's Bill."

"The bill that he supported and the bill that is named after him are twins if you will. One talks about giving federal resources to help prosecute hate crimes. The other bill talks about focusing on youth and adults that would turn youth toward hateful acts. Right now we hope that both bills will be named after David and I'm delighted to be working with local elected officials to push that."

President Bush has threatened to veto the main bill if it makes it to his desk. Administration officials have said local and state hate crimes laws are sufficient.

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