FRESNO, Calif. - Friends and family laid Neng Thao, 18, to rest Sunday.
Neng drowned a week ago in the San Joaquin River. He died the same day he celebrated his brother's graduation from Fresno State.
In traditional Hmong culture, the family is holding a three day service, Sunday's service was the first. It is being held at the Fresno Fairgrounds because family said Neng impacted a lot of people. They said it's important to accommodate everyone he touched.
Song and prayer fill the room, as friends and family said goodbye to a beloved young man.
"The picture that you see of him smiling, that's exactly who he was," Bo Thao-Urabe, Neng's cousin, said.
Thao-Urabe recalls her young bright cousin.
She said through this heartbreaking time, the family has learned of the special impact Neng had on so many in the community.
"Even though he's gone his light will continue to show, continue to shine brightly on everyone," Thao-Urabe said.
She said Neng was wise beyond his years but known for his goofy spirit, kind heart and passion for life.
"He has accomplished so much and he is continuing to really illuminate the way for everyone about how to be proud of who you are but also have goals and dreams," Thao-Urabe said.
Photos of Neng lined the table. A final tribute showing him as a little boy, his accomplishments and the last picture he would take with his family. Someone even altering it to show him in his cap and gown. A proud moment he worked so hard for but wouldn't live to experience.
"He's still with us in spirit and that will never be gone," Thao-Urabe said.
Mayor Lee Brand is expected to speak Monday afternoon, at the second service, which is opened to the public.
Students of Neng's Hmong club from his school, Edison High, will be there along with representatives of UC Berkeley, the college Neng was supposed to attend.
The services take place on Monday, at the Fresno Fairgrounds, starting at 1 p.m.
A GoFundMe account was created to help pay for services, and it has already raised more than the $20,000 goal. For more information, go to www.gofundme.com/neng-thaos-funeral.