Stabbing victim remembered in impromptu gathering at Auburn park

Matt Steele’s sudden death marked by tears, hugs, hip-hop rap, poetry and balloon release
By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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There were tears and sorrowful hugs at an impromptu sunset gathering at an Auburn park to remember stabbing victim Matthew Steele.

But there was also fond laughter, fond remembrances and poetry as about 80 people, mostly in their teens and early 20s, recalled a life that was left too short.

Steele, 20, of Auburn, died Wednesday after being stabbed on a private road in the El Dorado County community of Cold Springs, near Placerville. The El Dorado County Sheriff’s Office arrested 18-year-old Placerville resident Wesley Ronald Hampshire soon afterward on suspicion of murder.

Late Thursday, as the sun set at Auburn Recreation Park, grieving friends and acquaintances drawn by a Facebook call for a gathering began to assemble on an open expanse of lawn between the ball fields to remember Steele.

Andrew Tuller stood in the middle of the circle of mourners to deliver a rap expressing his sadness for a friend he played baseball with and learned to admire for his gift of happiness.

“His personality was what stood out,” Tuller said after rejoining the throng in the encroaching darkness. “It was bright in the darkest times of other people’s lives. No matter what he was going through, he always remained the light.”

A painting was placed on a bench for people to express their feelings about the tragic loss of the Placer High 2010 grad. The words “All The Small Things” were written boldly on the paper – a nod to a favorite song of Steele’s, which included the words “Say it ain’t so, I will not go. Turn the lights off, carry me home.” 

Olivia Barry read poetry and later described her former E.V. Cain and Placer High School classmate as an unbelievable person.

“His smile, his laugh, his general exuberance,” Barry said, when asked to describe Steele.

As the last light was leaving, colored balloons were produced and attendees closed the circle to touch the silver strings as they were released into the air. Soaring higher, many cheered, as a single voiced called out “We love you Matt.”

Justen Morris, 23, who said he was Matt’s best friend, said Steele had friends in Placerville and was visiting to hang out and have a good time, Morris said. The Sheriff’s Office hasn’t released information on the cause of the stabbing, other than to say an altercation took place.

Morris said he had no idea who Hampshire was.

“But he’s going to regret it for the rest of his life,” Morris said.

Morris said he and Steele shared a love of music.

“For him, it was everything from hip hop to acoustic to metal,” he said.

Like others at the gathering, Morris said that Steele’s vibrant personality always stood out.

“At a party, you would probably hear him laughing,” Morris said. “It was infectious. I miss him a lot.”

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