Howard student's creativity recalled

Funeral held for teen killed by poisoned soda

January 12, 2003|By Jason Song | Jason Song,SUN STAFF

Benjamin Edward Vassiliev had recently finished writing the first chapters of a science fiction novel. Yesterday, friends and family closed the last chapter of his life.

Vassiliev, a 17-year-old Centennial High School senior who died Wednesday of cyanide poisoning, was buried in the St. John's Episcopal Church cemetery in Ellicott City yesterday after a funeral service at the church, attended by nearly 200 people.

Vassiliev drank a poisoned soda Jan. 3 while playing video games with childhood friend Ryan Thomas Furlough, Howard County police say. Furlough was romantically interested in Vassiliev's girlfriend and had spiked the soda with cyanide, according to police charging documents.

Earlier, some of Vassiliev's friends remembered him as a friendly student who "was always willing to help you with anything," said Katie Spillman, 17, a senior at Centennial.

Vassiliev's English class was asked earlier in the school year to compare a song with existential poetry. When Lauren Hawthorne, 18, struggled to compare a song by the rock group Linkin Park to poetry, Vassiliev piped up from his seat to jog her memory and help her finish her speech.

"He would jump out to help you," she said.

In his presentation, Vassiliev showed his artistic side, Hawthorne said. Instead of using a contemporary song, Vassiliev chose a piece of classical music and compared it to The Wasteland by T.S. Eliot.

"It was incredible. He just used the music's mood to make his point. Everyone was stunned," Hawthorne said.

Vassiliev also was a talented actor and had a major role in Centennial's coming production of A Midsummer Night's Dream.

"He always had creative takes on characters," said Paul Pless, who graduated from Centennial last year but took several drama classes with Vassiliev.

Several students said he had recently begun writing a science fiction novel and was a gifted artist who constantly filled the margins of his notebooks with intricate drawings from Japanese animation.

"You would look at his [drawings] ... and just say, `Wow,'" said Jared Cox, who graduated from Centennial last year.

Many mourners were in tears yesterday as the service ended, and students said the mood at school is similar.

"You go to class and see an empty desk where he used to sit, and you just want to cry," Hawthorne said.

Furlough has been charged with first-degree murder in connection with Vassiliev's death and is being held without bail at the Howard County Detention Center.

Furlough's parents apologized to the Vassiliev family last week, issuing a statement that read, in part: "We are so sorry for the pain and suffering our son Ryan has caused Ben and his family."

Furlough's parents have declined to comment further. "We are too grief-stricken to think," said Susan Furlough.

Susan Furlough has said that her son and Vassiliev had been friends since kindergarten, and Centennial students said the two often walked the halls and ate lunch together.

But Furlough apparently was jealous of Vassiliev's relationship with his girlfriend. He wrote Vassiliev a letter dated June 19 that read in part, "There isn't a day that passes by where I don't think about her" and "I will never give up until I have the key to her heart," according to charging documents.

Furlough has a history of depression and has been taking medication for about two years, his lawyer, Jan O'Connor, said last week. He bought cyanide in October over the Internet using his mother's credit card, according to charging documents.

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