MISSOULA — Diren Dede was genuine, generous and a good friend, several Big Sky High School students and soccer teammates shared Monday.
“He was always just that perfect friend to hang out with,” said Dana Kowachek, a teammate.
He also was a heartthrob with a contagious laugh.
“All the girls loved him,” said Sierra Lenox, a friend of Dede’s.
The 17-year-old enjoyed playing pingpong and soccer, outdoor activities and sharing his culture with his host family and other students at Big Sky, where he was enrolled as a junior. He was open-minded, friendly, loved Sprite and dreamed of traveling the U.S. in an RV.
Early Sunday, the German exchange student’s life was cut short when he was shot inside a Grant Creek garage on Deer Canyon Court.
Residents of the home told police they heard someone in the garage; the 29-year-old male resident went out the front door and shot Dede in the garage. Markus Hendrik Kaarma faces a felony charge of deliberate homicide.
Dede’s host family declined to speak about the incident, but said the events don’t mesh with the boy they knew.
Randy Smith and Kate Walker were only supposed to serve as the “welcome family” for Dede last summer. However, after only a few days, they asked to keep him throughout the school year because of the immediate relationship they forged, Walker said Monday.
“We just really bonded with him really quickly,” she said.
Often, the three would talk about politics and Dede’s Turkish culture, which the teenager identified with more strongly than the German culture he was raised in, she said. He introduced his host parents to Turkish coffee, food and music.
“He was just so easy to talk to,” Walker said.
Once while at the mall, Dede met another man who spoke Turkish. The duo had a spontaneous conversation full of chitchat and about their travels, said Chance Maes, a friend and neighbor in the Grant Creek area.
“And that was the happiest he’d been here,” Maes said.
The conversation was a testament to Dede’s pride in being Turkish, Maes said.
Dede never took his time in the U.S. for granted and was hardworking, just like his family, Walker said. His father is a cab driver, while his mother works in a coffee shop and Dede was raised in a working-class section of Hamburg, Germany.
Through video chat conversations, it was clear that Dede, his parents, two older sisters and numerous cousins were close, Walker said.
“He took it very seriously that they were giving up something for him to be here,” she said.
A soccer fanatic, Dede often played the game with friends on the Xbox, as well as for Big Sky’s varsity team.
His first day in Montana, Dede made sure to get a physical and make it to soccer practice, then hiked to the “M” with his new teammates.
“He rallied,” Walker said.
One game, Smith captured a sequence of events on his camera that he said sums up Dede.
A player from the other team faked out Dede, and it was easy to tell from his facial expression that Dede wasn’t pleased.
Dede determinedly chased down the other player and got the ball back, Smith said, while his friends nodded in agreement that the story sounded like something he would do.
“He always would go 100 percent,” said Maes.
“He’s also just so enthusiastic about everything,” teammate Kowachek added.
When a group of friends went cliff jumping, Dede was the first one off the edge, said Zack Plasmier, who transferred to Big Sky in the fall and quickly formed a friendship with Dede through soccer.
Although soccer took up much of his time, Dede was able to travel to Hawaii through the exchange program and became friends with another exchange student who came to visit from Ohio over spring break. He also was able to travel with his host family to Yellowstone National Park, where he photographed grizzly bears and other wildlife alongside Smith.
Music was another passion of Dede’s, and it wasn’t unusual to hear Turkish pop videos playing as several students watched on the computer in his classroom, Jay Bostrom said.
Bostrom, who was Dede’s soccer coach, Spanish teacher and mentor, remembered him as having a tough exterior but really being a teddy bear.
“He was also one of those people who was concerned about the little people,” Bostrom said.
Class discussions about other cultures were enriched with Dede’s insights into social and political issues such as immigration and racism, Bostrom added.
On the soccer field, Dede was a quiet, no-nonsense leader, Bostrom said.
“He was just an absolute leader by example,” he said.
Voters unanimously gave him all-state honors after the fall season.
“And that came from his tenacity,” Bostrom said.
On the field or in the classroom, people always knew where Dede stood.
“There’s no doublespeak in his world,” Bostrom said.
Friends also appreciated his genuine nature.
“He truly cared about your conversations you have with him,” said Carley Lane, a fellow soccer lover and friend.
“He was just a great kid, always smiling, happy,” Smith said.
“He will be missed,” Walker said. “He will be sorely missed.”