Durham School of the Arts students honor coffee shop owner killed in explosion

Durham County News

DURHAM, N.C. (WNCN) – Middle and high school students celebrated the life of a neighbor killed in a gas line explosion by decorating their campus in his honor.

Kong Lee died when a gas line exploded April 10 by his coffee shop on Duke Street. The blast demolished Kaffeinate and damaged several buildings in the surrounding area.

Students at the Durham School of the Arts, which is one block away from Kaffeinate, wore white on Wednesday and wrote notes on small white ribbons which they tied to a fence. Drivers who detour around the section of Duke Street which remains closed will read the words “BULL CITY STRONG,” composed of hundreds of individual ribbons.

“We chose the color white because we wanted to represent his life and not his death. We wanted the ribbons because we wanted to write notes about what happened,” 10th grader America Lopez-Montoya said.

Senior Grace Szigethy said the large participation was exciting, and she was pleased to see most of her classmates in white shirts. Szigethy, Lopez-Montoya, and others who helped coordinate the display wore navy blue shirts, in part because it made them easily recognizable as student leaders, but also because those shirts were from a Fall 2018 event which Kong Lee helped sponsor. The Kaffeinate logo was on the back of their shirts.

“I’m writing (on my ribbon) to Mr. Lee that I miss him. I didn’t know him that much, but I met him a few times at the cafe,” Sara Thompson said. “I would have club meetings over Kaffeinate after school, so it’s kind of odd to think that all of it’s gone so suddenly.”

Szigethy chose not to write on her ribbon. It would have been knotted and not readable as a single standalone note, and she said the most meaningful statement comes from all of the ribbons together as a whole.

“For me, just having just the white ribbon alone shows our coming together, and I think there’s something nice about the anonymity of having the white ribbon, because this event is not about the individual, it’s about Durham as a whole coming together to support the people that need it,” Szigethy said.

The display is temporary, but the students want Lee’s family to know that he will not be forgotten.

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