Requiem for a Heavyweight: The Death of Frank Tanuvasa
Former East High star shot to death
PALM DESERT, CA - A 20-year-old former football star from East High School is dead – shot by a sheriff's deputy in Palm Desert, California, where he was going to college.
The death of Frank Tanuvasa has stunned his friends and family, some of whom question the official version of events.
Tanuvasa allegedly was fleeing the scene of a reported attempted burglary when he got into a physical confrontation with a deputy.
The sheriff's department spokesman isn't saying if he was armed or why deputies believe Tanuvasa was involved in the incident outside of an apartment complex.
It's a tragic end for a big young man who struggled to get out of Mountain View and make a name for himself in college football.
Tanuvasa was a big offensive lineman, at 6 feet and 6 inches and nearly 400 pounds, perhaps the biggest football player to come out of Alaska.
"Even though he's a big guy, he's got a big heart,” said Travis Dean, Tanuvasa’s uncle. “Lots of love. He loves his little brothers and sister.”
Tanuvasa, who graduated from East High in 2009, got a football scholarship to College of the Desert in Palm Desert and dreamed of playing for a Division 1 NCAA school.
"It was going good,” said friend Chris Aina. “I thought he was going to make it to D1 college. I thought he had his head on straight. I still think he had his head on straight."
Mao Tosi, who heads the group AK Pride and tries to keep the youth of Anchorage on the straight and narrow, said Tanuvasa had long been at risk.
"At risk in so many ways. One of them being minority. One of them was being low income. One of them being a Polynesian. Growing up in Mountain View. You can pick any excuse you want. But it still comes down to that he's not here any more and just those choices that were made during that time, and looking back to see if there are regrets on any folks' part."
Tanuvasa’s teammates also were shocked at his death.
"The whole team is down right now about this,” said wide receiver Joel Felix. “That was our number one. Whatever happened, it went out the wrong way."
There is skepticism about the police version of the events.
"Frank wasn't armed with anything,” Dean said. “It wasn't like him to break into people's houses and stuff."
The band Roar and Represent (R&R) will hold a fund-raiser for Tanuvasa's family on March 3, at the VFW in Mountain View.
"It’s where we invite all of our friends, everybody who knows Frank, to come out and donate, donate whatever you can and 100 percent of the proceeds go to the family," said Aina, a band member.
"Within the Polynesian community, we are a tight group, and once the word was out, it really was shocking and it spread like wildfire,” Tosi said.
Now the loss of a big kid is leaving a big hole in that community.