Homer teen to be remembered after dying in California plane crash

  • Parker Gibson, left, poses with REC Room staff member Connor Schmidt, center, and Chloë Pleznac, right, at Nanwalek in October 2017. (Photo provided, REC Room)

A Homer boy died last week when a small aircraft he was in crashed in Hesperia, California.

Parker Gibson, 15, and 44-year-old Matthew Kaplan were found dead at the scene of the crash just south of the Hesperia Airport shortly after 5 p.m. last Friday, June 15, the Associated Press reported.

Gibson had been visiting his maternal grandmother in California. Kaplan had previously been married to Gibson’s mother, the late Dorrinda “Buffy” Gibson. He was helping to transport belongings of Gibson’s mother to his grandmother. Parker’s father, Bob Gibson, said his son and Kaplan had been headed to Torrance, California at the time of the crash, in order to deliver the belongings.

The plane was on fire when first responders reached it, the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department and Hesperia Police told the AP.

A Federal Aviation Administration official told The Daily Press that the plane was a Beechcraft Bonanza, the AP reported.

Hesperia is about 35 miles north of San Bernardino.

The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the cause of the crash. A preliminary report is still in progress, said Dennis Hogenson of the NTSB Western Pacific Region, Seattle. NTSB investigators typically take between five and 10 days to file preliminary reports, with a final report to follow about a year later.

Born in California, Parker had lived in Homer since 2012. He moved back to California for a time with his mother, before deciding to return to live in Homer once more around 2014, his father said. He attended Homer High School, where he would have been a junior this fall.

Parker was active in the Homer community, especially with the REC Room, where he worked since March 2017 through the Homer Peer Educators. In partnership with the State of Alaska’s Teen and Unintended Pregnancy Prevention program (TUPP), Homer Peer Educators are trained youth staff who teach a curriculum on abstinence, peer pressure, safer sex, and the effects of drugs and alcohol to younger students in Homer area schools.

Peer Education Coordinator Connor Schmidt said the REC Room has been providing time and space for Parker’s friends to come and grieve. He said the death has been difficult for the REC Room staff.

Schmidt described Parker as passionate about educating others, and eager to take on new challenges.

“He was an amazing presenter, and kind of went with the flow of everything that was happening,” he said. “… It was a big part of who he was, was that stage presence.”

Bob Gibson recalled attending an event at the high school where, in a separate room, members of Homer Peer Educators were talking with local parents about the kind of curriculum they were bringing into the classrooms. He remembered that a lot of the questions, especially surrounding the sex education portion of the curriculum, were not easy to answer. Parker, he said, answered a particularly tough question from a parent with grace.

“Then Parker walked up and fielded this question,” Bob Gibson said. “And he gave this response where, I couldn’t even speak the whole rest of the time I was sitting there. I couldn’t. I had this lump in my throat, I was so proud.”

According to Parker’s biography on the REC Room website, he had planned to graduate from high school early and go on to earn a doctorate in astrophysics.

Bob Gibson said his son was passionate about mathematics, physics and music.

“He was a genius,” said Mary Hasson, Bob’s partner.

Since his death, numerous friends of Parker’s have been sharing stories and memories with his family, Bob Gibson said.

“We’re finding a lot of journals and stuff like that,” he said. “And some of his friends are going to be reading out of those at the memorial.”

Since Parker’s death, many of his friends (several of them also involved with the REC Room) have been gathering at the Gibson house to grieve, laugh and remember Parker. The home was a major gathering place for the group of young people before Parker died, and his father said those friends will always be welcome there.

“Yesterday morning, we woke up and there (were) five kids on his bed and two on the floor,” Bob Gibson said.

“You just wanted to be a part of him,” he said of his son.

Parker was the kind of person who took computers apart just to figure out how they worked, then put them back together. He was the kind of person who learned to play Clair de Lune on the piano in under 24 hours just because his girlfriend at the time mentioned she loved that song.

Chloë Pleznac, a close friend of Parker’s who also dated him for about a year and a half, said music was a much larger part of his life than a lot of people realized. Parker had recorded numerous songs, many of which he posted on SoundCloud. His friends are now working to publish the songs Parker hadn’t uploaded before he died, Pleznac said.

“I think the best way (to remember him) is to just listen to his music and hear him in it, because it’s very easy to tell what kind of person he is when you listen to his music,” she said.

Pleznac and several of Parker’s friend will perform a version of the Beatle’s song “In My Life” at Parker’s memorial, to be held this Saturday. She said music has been a large part of the grieving and healing process for her and his other friends.

When it came to Parker’s involvement at the REC Room, Pleznac was the one who encouraged him to become a peer educator after he saw the group present in his own freshman year health class.

“He just really enjoyed it because … it gave him structure and he got to like, be able to help out his peers,” she said. “He already helped out his peers a lot. That’s kind of like the unsung undertones of being a peer educator is that you do it anyway, even whether or not you’re being paid or you’re on the clock or any of that. It’s your life, and it’s a way of living. And so, he really was good about that and being there for other people.”

Parker’s family will hold a memorial service for him from 2-6 p.m. this Saturday, June 23, at the Bishop’s Beach Pavilion. Bob Gibson, who is organizing the memorial with Parker’s grandmother, Betty Siegel, has asked that attendees bring stories, music, a photo of Parker “or simply a smile.” If attendees are able, they are asked to bring a log for the fire or a dish to share.

Reach Megan Pacer at mpacer@homernews.com.

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