PHOTOS: 1,400 attend funeral for Gulf Coast High’s Jake Couture

— Lying in the parking lot of a North Naples apartment complex where he was gunned down Friday night, Jake Couture, 17, drew his final breath and spoke his last words to gathered friends: “I love you.”

On Tuesday night, about 1,400 friends and family members reciprocated that feeling, crowding into the First Baptist Church of Naples, 3000 Orange Blossom Drive, to pay their last respects to a young man known for his smile and his ability to make connections across the typical high school boundaries.

“He clearly loved his friends, but he had a deep love for his family and for the Lord,” said First Baptist Senior Pastor Hayes Wicker, who told the story of Couture's last words.

Wicker told the congregation that he doesn’t understand why Couture was killed and reminded the many teenagers in the crowd, for whom death may seem like fiction, that life is, in fact, short. He encouraged them to make good choices and to seek a relationship with God to help them do so.

“We are not to see death as a period, but as a comma,” Wicker said. “For the Christian, death is a door.”

Couture passed through that door around 9:15 p.m. on Friday, when he was shot to death outside an apartment at 14830 Triangle Bay Drive at Brittany Bay Apartments. Two friends, 21-year-old Brandon Standifer and 15-year-old Michael Fleitas were also injured in the shooting, but survived.

A 23-year-old man was arrested just hours after the funeral. James Menard was charged with second-degree murder.

Rumors about who the shooters were and what lead to the shooting ran rampant Friday afternoon around Gulf Coast High School, where Couture was a junior.

“Everybody was talking about it, but there’s no true stories,” said 17-year-old Nicole Cernuto, who is also a junior at the school.

Cernuto, who attended the funeral with friends, described Couture as a “nice guy” who “made everyone laugh,” and didn’t fit in with just one clique of friends. He was a shoo-in for “class clown” or “best smile” when it came time for senior awards next year.

“He was just Jake,” she said. “He was not in a group. He was friends with anyone.”

Cernuto drove past the scene of the shooting on Friday night, but didn’t know what happened until she received a phone call from a friend.

“I didn’t believe it at first,” Cernuto said. “He wasn’t that type of kid to be around that stuff.”

Photographs of a shaggy-haired Couture on his four-wheeler, at Christmas, and holding his dog, smiled down on the mourners who waited in line to view his open casket at a viewing between 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. Couture’s four-wheeler helmet sat atop his casket.

His mother and father, Jeannie and Craig Couture, greeted visitors.

The one-hour funeral service started at 6 p.m. There was no planned burial.

Alexis Schilling, 19, a friend of the Couture family, said she spoke to Jeannie Couture recently, and said the family is struggling.

“I think she’s more in shock than anything,” Schilling said. “I haven’t seen her cry.”

But Wicker said the Couture family is doing “really well,” adding that he’s trying to remind them to be thankful for the 17 years they had with Jake. While they struggle to come to grips with their son’s death, Wicker said they haven’t forgotten about the shooter.

“They are really seeking to forgive the perpetrator,” he said, “and they are praying for him to come to the Lord.”

Tuesday's funeral was especially difficult for Jayme Berger, 17, because it was not her first this past year. Like many Gulf Coast students, Berger was not only friends with Couture, but with 19-year-old Patrick Hutchison, a former Gulf Coast student who was shot and killed last March.

“It’s nuts,” Berger said. “It’s just going through this all over again. Another funeral I have to go to with someone being shot.”

Anyone with information about this shooting is asked to call the Collier County Sheriff’s Office at (239) 252-9300 or, to remain anonymous and be eligible for a reward, call Crime Stoppers at 1-800-780-TIPS (8477).

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Connect with Ryan Mills at www.naplesnews.com/staff/ryan-mills/

CLICK HERE TO SEE A SPECIAL SECTION ABOUT THE JAKE COUTURE SHOOTING »

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