Memorial service to remember Burbank teen

Tyler Richardson, Tri-City HeraldJanuary 31, 2014 

Hunter Conner, left, duck hunting recently with his friend Nate Gradin.

COURTESY DOMINIQUE MESERVE

The pictures and videos Hunter Conner's family has spent the past few days sifting through to prepare for his memorial service today show a lively boy who loved the outdoors.

Whether it was hunting, riding dirt bikes or fishing, Hunter embraced the life of a sportsman and being in nature, his family said.

It was that passion for the great outdoors that brought the 14-year-old to Ski Bluewood in Dayton on Jan. 25, said his mother, Dominique Meserve. He was invited by family members to try snowboarding for the first time.

A little after noon, Hunter was injured when he fell on a beginner trail on the mountain, said Brandy Ream, a spokeswoman for Bluewood. Hunter was conscious and able to communicate when the ski patrol found him atop the Country Road run.

The ski patrol reportedly requested a Life Flight helicopter, but it was unable to respond because of weather conditions.

An ambulance arrived about 1:45 p.m. and took Hunter to Columbia County Hospital in Dayton, Ream said. He died a short time later.

The Columbia County Coroner's Office is investigating Hunter's death, said Rea Culwell, Columbia County prosecuting attorney/coroner. A cause has not been determined.

Family and friends will remember Hunter today during a celebration of life ceremony at Columbia High School, 787 Maple St., in Burbank. They plan to wear T-shirts with his picture and show a slideshow featuring photos of him. The public is welcome to the 3 p.m. ceremony and encouraged to think of memories to share.

Family members have tried to stay strong as they grieve the unexpected loss of Hunter, who left behind six siblings. He was an eighth-grader at Columbia Middle School in Burbank.

"The support of the family and all the kids out there has been great," his mother said. "We have been reminiscing over all the old pictures and video. It has been good for the heart."

The overwhelming support from students, teachers and administrators in the Columbia School District has helped ease the family's pain, Meserve said.

Students decorated Hunter's locker earlier this week and left messages in chalk outside the middle school's basketball court. The school declared this week Hunter Spirit Week and had several themed dress-up days.

Students also wrote Hunter's name on a football field near the school where he played running back, Meserve said.

"It's been unbelievable," his mom said. "I'm so glad that my boy touched so many people's lives. I am lucky to say he is my boy."

Hunter was born in Richland and grew up in Kennewick, Meserve said. He was always on the go as a child and enjoyed building forts the backyard.

He attended a few schools in the Kennewick School District, including Canyon View Elementary and Horse Heaven Hills Middle School, Meserve said.

He moved to Burbank to live with his father, Bruce Conner, in the seventh grade, Meserve said. Hunter convinced his mother to let him live in Burbank so he could be more involved with his outdoor hobbies.

He "blossomed into a man" while living in Burbank, where he recently shot his first buck and took up duck hunting, Meserve said. He loved country music and watching Duck Dynasty.

Hunter also played football, basketball and baseball.

"He loved to have fun and loved everybody. He loved being in Burbank," said his sister, Desiree Sawyer, 19. "He was definitely meant to live in Burbank."

Hunter loved rooting for the Seahawks and his favorite player was Marshawn Lynch, Meserve said. He routinely sported his favorite shirt with the running back's name and number.

Hunter wore a shirt with Lynch's nickname, "Beast Mode," a Seahawks hat and camouflage shorts during a viewing at Herring-Groseclose Funeral Home in Walla Walla.

"Everyone joked that he never took those shorts off," Meserve said.

While Hunter's death has been difficult to accept, it has also brought his family closer, family members said. Hunter was insistent on getting his family together on holidays and spending time with them.

Family members told the Herald that the grieving process will take a long time, but they are leaning on each other and the community for support.

"I miss him so much and I can't believe I will never see him again. That is the hardest," said his sister, Melissa Conner, 16. "But I am really proud of my family. We are being really strong. It's hard. We are all helping each other and being together."

Though family members say they are sure today's service will be difficult, they are looking forward to hearing stories about Hunter and seeing all the lives he touched.

Before the ceremony with the public, family members will hold a moment of silence at about the time Hunter died and release red balloons with messages.

"Through such tragedy and heartbreak we are actually excited about the service," Meserve said. "The support from everyone will be great."

-- Tyler Richardson: 582-1556; trichardson@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @Ty_richardson

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