On the last day of his life, Luke Hoyer found a Valentine’s Day card and some of his favorite chocolates sitting by his bathroom sink. He called downstairs, “Thanks, Mom.”
When his mother, Gena Hoyer, dropped her 15-year-old son off at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School that morning, she told him, “I love you, Lukey Bear.”
“I love you too, Mom,” he said.
Luke, a freshman, was among the 17 victims in the school shooting that day. At his celebration of life on Monday, Pastor David Hughes of the Church By The Glades highlighted the love in that final conversation.
“The fact that your last exchange was that was a gift,” he told Luke’s mother and the crowd of more than 100 that gathered to honor the slain teen.
There are no words that will help Luke’s loved ones heal, he said, but “I think we’re taking the first few fragile steps out of that darkness.”
Before the ceremony began, photos of Luke’s life flashed on twin projector screens: Luke as a young kid posing with his dog, both wearing matching sunglasses; Gena Hoyer grinning and holding up her birthday cake-smeared toddler; his Dad, Tom Hoyer, proudly cradling his newborn son on his chest.
Basketballs, a nod to Luke’s favorite pastime, were everywhere — in childhood photos, near the sign-in sheets and near his flower draped casket.
Luke’s older sister, Abby Hoyer, paused to touch her brother’s wooden casket for a moment before ascending the stage with her other brother and two cousins. They stood in front of 17 flickering candles to memorialize the victims and told the audience about Luke’s wide smile, his humor and “his one true love, chicken nuggets.”
Abby Hoyer remembered the time Luke used his parent’s credit card to buy Xbox Live points without permission. His punishment was one pushup for every point he bought — 2,000 in total. She talked about how family and friends would try to come up with complicated questions to try and pry longer answers from the “king of one word answers.” She remembered his tight hugs and the 12-hour car rides to visit family.
“We’ll miss everything about our little brother,” she said.
When Luke’s father first took the stage with his printed-out speech clutched tightly in his hands, he asked everyone to “forgive me if I don’t look up. I don’t know if I can.”
Tom Hoyer’s voice shook as he talked about getting the news that there was an active shooter at his son’s high school, his sheer terror when Luke wouldn’t answer his phone and the pain he felt when he heard the terrible news.
He’ll never see his son play basketball again. Never watch the Miami Heat play with his son. Never see his son get his driver’s license.
“The nevers just kept piling up,” he said.
Then, while sharing Luke stories with his wife and children days later, someone told a funny one and he laughed. At first, he said, the laughter was followed by guilt. But the laughter chased away his pain and anguish for a moment, and he thought that would have been what his son wanted.
“Luke liked laughing, and that’s how we want to remember him,” Tom Hoyer said. “If you see us around, it’s OK to laugh with us. We remember Luke that way.”
That’s why, instead of spending every future Valentine’s Day deep in grief, the family said, they plan to remember Luke by doing what he loved: playing basketball and eating chicken nuggets.