A Santa Barbara theater was packed to capacity Saturday afternoon as the community honored the life of Santa Barbara High School senior Connor O’Keefe, who was struck and killed by a train last week in Montecito.
“Your tragic and untimely death has bonded this community, bonded our family and friends — made us stronger and more aware of our relationships with people,” said O’Keefe’s father, Dan.
“I thank every single person in this theater who has been there for us over this last tragic week. My love goes out to the entire community, which has backed us up since this happened.”
He was passionate about photography and a key member of the Dons’ water polo team. His letterman’s jacket was finished in time for the ceremony.
O’Keefe scored 50 goals his freshman year on the water polo team, and 93 the next season, which earned him Offensive Player of the Year honors. He made the varsity squad his junior year.
“That first day you put on your Dons water polo gear, I was so proud,” Dan O’Keefe said, addressing his late son.
“What I got to see from water polo was friendships, freedom and you became your own man.”
Family, friends, classmates and teammates who spoke all remembered O’Keefe’s bright smile and his funny and loving personality.
Supporters shared some laughs when his dad recalled a story about a road trip to Las Vegas, barbecuing, and playing basketball and football together.
He also noted his son’s strong bond with his friends.
“You had an amazing group of friends, Connor,” Dan O’Keefe said.
“You loved, laughed and bonded. My role was getting you to the point in your life where you could rely on your to friends support, nurture and love. I feel like I did my job.”
During the remembrance event, those in attendance shared hugs and tears when speakers delivered messages of both love and sadness.
“Connor loved deeply,” said his mother, Kelly O’Keefe.
“If you were lucky enough to be loved by Connor, know that love went straight to his core. When somebody so young and sweet dies in a tragic way, it gives us time to think. It has jolted our little community in Santa Barbara.”
At the conclusion of the service, closing remarks were made by Scott Lisea, head of school at Providence, A Santa Barbara Christian School.
He suggested using the hashtag #HonorConnor.
“When you do something that brings joy to somebody else — when you do something that’s beautiful in life or when you see something beautiful — use #HonorConnor,” Lisea said.