SEAFORD, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) – Church bells tolled as family and friends bid a final farewell Monday to a Seaford teenager who died on a school trip to the West Coast.
The Seaford High School band played “Let It Be” during the funeral mass at St. William the Abbot Church in what friends called a fitting tribute to 15-year-old Joseph Tutaj.
“I think he would’ve liked it very much because it was his favorite song and he really loved the Beatles,” friend Thomas Flynn said.
Tutaj was a rising star in the school band, playing both the trumpet and the French horn. He also had participated in Model Congress, the Boy Scouts and math competitions.
“I am speechless on what has happened and the circumstances,” Flynn told CBS 2′s Jennifer McLogan. “He was a true friend of mine.”
The Long Island school district is reeling from the still unexplained death. The sophomore died suddenly on Feb. 19 while in Los Angeles to perform at Disneyland with the school marching band. Tutaj came down with chills, cough, fever and suddenly collapsed.
“We are all very, very upset and curious about what it was that took Joseph’s life. So we’re very anxious to get those answers,” Seaford School Superintendent Brian Conboy told CBS 2′s McLogan.
Friends and family said he had no known medical problems and it’s still unclear exactly what caused his death.
Joseph’s mother, Eileen, flew to Los Angeles, but did not reach his hospital bed before he died. She spoke with CBS 2 after she returned with her son’s body.
“He was a healthy boy,” Eileen Tutaj said of her son.
Seaford High School principal Scott Bersin said it was very emotional inside the church hearing the school band and choir perform.
“It was a beautiful moment. And the more beautiful the moment, the more difficult it is to go through it,” he told McLogan.
“I had no idea the impact he had on so many people,” Eileen Tutaj added.
The tragedy is just the latest in a series of hard times for Tutaj’s family.
His father is battling stage four cancer; the family also lost their home during Superstorm Sandy and have been living temporarily in Bethpage.
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