Teen remembered for his music

Justin Warfield of Columbia died of apparent overdose

October 20, 2007|By John-John Williams IV | John-John Williams IV,Sun reporter

His friends believed Justin Warfield was destined for greatness.

The musically gifted Columbia youth landed a slot on the selective Maryland State Boychoir. Later, he showcased his drumming ability as part of a regional band composed of high school friends from Wilde Lake High School.

Most thought that his acceptance to the prestigious Rider University's Westminster Choir College in Princeton, N.J., was the next step in his musical education.

Wednesday, the 18-year-old freshman music composition major died of an apparent heroin overdose.

Prosecutors say that another student, Kieran Hunt, 19, of Piscataway, N.J., provided the drug. They have charged Hunt in Warfield's death. Hunt is free on $100,000 bond.

Warfield's friends and acquaintances, who recalled a quiet, hard-working prodigy with curly hair, expressed shock that he would die in such a manner.

"He is not that kind of person," said Michael R. Ritt, a longtime friend of Warfield's family.

The two were members of the Maryland State Boychoir, in which Warfield was involved from 2000 to 2002. Ritt was the head chorister.

"He was so focused, and he cared about music. He worked really hard. He was so dedicated to his work," Ritt said.

Warfield came from a family where good manners and achievement were expected, said Frank Cimino, the artistic director of the Maryland State Boychoir.

"He was just a normal kid; just kind of the picture-perfect kid that most people would think of," Cimino said.

Brent McBride, 16, who was a member of Warfield's band The Getaways, said, "I didn't know much about Justin's personal life. If he ever did anything [with drugs], I never knew about it."

Authorities say that Warfield injected the heroin with Hunt in a parking lot at their college campus. Later, students drew on Warfield with a marker as he lay passed out on the futon of another student's apartment. Three students -- including 20-year-old Nicholas Landrum, who lived in the apartment -- were charged with harassment for drawing on him.

Ritt said he believes that peer pressure was involved in the death of Warfield.

"I would never even picture him doing anything -- let alone a hard drug like heroin," he said. "He's not this druggie type of kid."

Warfield's mother, the Rev. Marie Warfield Bunt, said in a written statement that her son never drank or used drugs before this incident. She said she believes that prescription medicines reacted adversely to whatever he ingested the night of his death.

This was not Warfield's first brush with death. In 2004, he was the passenger in a car that was involved in an accident in Columbia. The driver was killed. Warfield was flown to Maryland Shock Trauma Center, where he was listed in serious condition for a time.

"That was pretty frightening," Ritt recalled. "He wasn't able to walk in the beginning. He looked pretty bad for a while."

But eventually, Warfield bounced back.

"He progressed so fast," Ritt said. "Everyone believed it was a blessing from God. Within a year, he was almost functioning as any normal kid."

Warfield's musical ability stemmed in part from his family. His mother was a professional opera singer who attended Peabody Conservatory and was a soprano with the Tri-City Opera, before becoming a Lutheran minister.

Warfield's younger sister, JennaMarie, now a student at Wilde Lake, and older brother, Joshua, sang in the church choir.

A man who answered the door yesterday at Warfield's Columbia home -- a two-story white house that was adorned with Halloween decorations -- declined to comment about Warfield's death.

But through Ritt, family members released a brief statement saying, "Justin was a fun-loving person. ... He lived every second of his life. This week, the music world lost something very special."

Warfield was a musical prodigy, said Ritt, now the alumni president for the Maryland State Boychoir.

"He was always learning a new instrument," Ritt said. "His mom made sure that he practiced because she knew the type of music talent he was."

Ritt said he immediately recognized Warfield's talent during his choir audition.

"He just had an amazing voice," Ritt recalled. "The directors were very amazed. It made us all smile."

Warfield was a quiet boy and an achiever, Cimino said.

"[He was] definitely a hard worker and well-mannered," Cimino said.

Warfield's hard work carried over to participation as a drummer for The Getaways, a garage band specializing in 1960s music that plays in venues in the Baltimore/Washington area.

Warfield's bandmates dedicated a 40-minute performance to him at the Recher Theater in Towson on Thursday night. The band's MySpace page was filled with a dozen messages from friends sharing their condolences.

"During the tribute, I just broke down," said McBride, who plays bass. "It was just too hard."

McBride said he became friends with Warfield largely because of Warfield's accepting nature.

"I was kind of dorky in the beginning of high school," McBride said. "He didn't care. He took me in as I was. That was the highlight of my freshman year."

Funeral plans were incomplete, Ritt said.

john-john.williams@baltsun.com

Sun reporter Larry Carson and the Associated Press contributed to this article.

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