Tay's friends say he offered not only an interesting mind, but a reliable and generous definition of friendship.
"When I needed help doing stuff, he was always there," Chennavasin said, remembering how Tay came to fetch him when his car ran out of gas. Tay offered to drive recently when a bunch of friends went to see the rock group Erasure at the Wiltern Theater in Los Angeles, he said. "He was always doing stuff like that," Chennavasin said.
Chennavasin and another friend, Jack Oak, 17, fondly recalled a skiing trip they took with Tay to the Mountain High ski resort over Christmas vacation. Oak said they dubbed Tay "Psycho Man" because he was braving jumps and zooming around the slopes.
Oak recalled Tay as a youth who was "always trying to please and comfort others. Like when we went to his house, he was always saying, 'Have some food, have some more food.' It was this homemade Chinese food that his grandmother made," Oak said.
Tay was a distinguished student, carrying four honors classes and one advanced placement class this year. In his sophomore and junior years, he had already qualified for college credit in biology and U.S. history by passing advanced placement tests in those subjects, said his guidance counselor, Genevieve Koerner. He was planning to take the tougher of two AP tests in calculus this spring. He aspired to be an ophthalmologist or a plastic surgeon.
But to Koerner, Tay also stood out for his wide range of talents and interests. He was an amateur photographer, wrote poetry and played the piano in an alternative rock band. He climbed Mt. Whitney with his Boy Scout troop. He founded an Asian culture club on campus, and belonged to the politically conscious Junior Statesmen of America. He ran his own business buying, selling and repairing computer components. And he loved to tinker on computers himself, using as his password Depeche Mode, the name of his favorite rock group.
Koerner said Tay, with one younger sister, came from a close-knit family that put a premium on sharing conversation over dinner every night. His parents, a homemaker and an obstetrician, immigrated from Singapore years ago and worked hard to establish a secure lifestyle, moving from Fullerton to a large, custom-built home in Orange when Tay was midway through sixth grade.
So dedicated was his mother to her son's school life that she drove every day from Orange back to Fullerton so Stuart could complete the sixth grade at his old school, one teacher recalls. News of Tay's death and its seamy circumstances stunned his sixth-grade teacher at that school.
"It blows my mind," said Ann Lehman, who taught Tay in his final year at Sunset Lane Elementary in Fullerton. "He was a loved, self-confident child."
Koerner said she saw that same loving attitude years later in conferences with Mrs. Tay. She paid careful attention to Stuart's schoolwork, occasionally calling to see if he was "on track" with the courses he needed, Koerner said. What also impressed her, however, was the mutual respect and openness with which mother and son spoke together.
"You could see he was free to disagree with her," Koerner said.
The young man's bewildered and grief-stricken family has been in seclusion all week, declining to talk to reporters. His girlfriend, reportedly in anguish, has not returned to school since the news of the killing came out on Monday. And as dozens of questions swirl unanswered, his classmates are intensely aware of his absence.
"There's this parking space (in the student lot) where he always parked," Stracker said, his voice growing soft. "Nobody is parking there."
The Slaying of Stuart Tay
It is one of the most chilling murders in Orange County history. A bright Foothill High School senior from an affluent family is slain on New Year's Eve and buried behind a house in Buena Park.
Stuart A. Tay
The victim was a 17-year-old honors student at Foothill High School and the son of a wealthy Orange physician. Friends say the computer enthusiast, like Robert Chan, had applied to attend Princeton University. But he was also rebellious, at times refusing to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance. Police believe that a mutual interest in computers led Tay to Chan. The two were introduced by Tay's girlfriend, a Foothill High cheerleader.
A KEY INVESTIGATOR
Lee M. Roberts, 44, a private investigator, was hired by Tay's family and the first to uncover evidence of the murder. A former Newport Beach police officer, Roberts and 15 others from his firm interviewed 100 people and searched in dumpsters, open fields and along roadsides for clues. While not discounting the motive suggested by police--that Tay and Chan fell out while plotting to steal computers--Roberts suspects that they were also at odds over Tay's girlfriend, whom Chan had previously dated.