On April 19, Christopher Savage was found dead in his friend’s Adams Morgan apartment hours after he was mugged and beaten. His cause of death is still a mystery. To most of the District, Savage himself remains an unknown. He had only lived here for five days.
Savage was only 36. He’d spent most of his life in Bakersfield, Calif. His hometown friends, who knew him best, describe a man still invested in the local punk scene, who loved to party, and loved to tell jokes. But he also struggled with a heroin addiction.
Last night, Savage’s friends and family held a wake. “It was a closed casket,” says Eric Bonilla, one of Savage’s oldest friends. “Everything just took too long.”
After the wake, Bonilla and some 50 other pals gathered at one of Savage’s favorite pizza parlors.
After the funeral, which will be held May 1, Savage’s family arranged for everyone to convene at the Mint, a local bar, for the rest of the day. Savage had worked at the rowdy bar for several years. At a nearby club, bands—including Bonilla’s band—will be playing in Savage’s honor.
Since Savage’s death, his friends have mourned in their own ways. One friend posted a tribute on YouTube. Others have swapped Savage stories at one of his favorite tattoo shops. During that time, Savage’s Bakersfield crew shared their memories with Washington City Paper. Here’s what they had to say about their friend:
Greg Looney, 35
Savage’s best friend.
“Nobody is angry at D.C. Everybody’s just upset that it was just so stupid. It was just a bunch of lame people ganging up on somebody. I don’t know. People are just sad that it happened to Chris because he was such a good guy. He didn’t deserve to go out like that.”
“We’re still waiting to hear what the official ruling is…He’s gone anyway. It really doesn’t matter. We’ve all lost our friend. It’s not like knowing is going to make it any better. I’d personally like to know. But nothing is going to make him come back.”
“He was one of those guys—he didn’t have a lot of money. He’d give it to you if you needed it.”
“I hung out with him the very last night before he left. We knew we weren’t going to be together for a while. Our favorite place to drink is P.F. Chang’s. It’s not really our scene, the downtown dive bar scene is where we worked …we always kind of wanted to get away from our element. We hung out in yuppie bars. When we’d walk in everybody would look at us. Several of those bartenders were at the wake.”
“I didn’t want him to go. I had a funny feeling but I didn’t tell him that. Hanging out with Chris was the highlight of my week always—hanging out with my best friend. He was excited, super excited about going to see Vinnie….I hadn’t seen him that happy in a long time. [Bakersfield] can bring you down a little bit. That’s why we’d go to L.A. a lot. That’s why we’d go to L.A. for just a shot and a beer.”
“He was depressed for a little bit. And this opportunity to go to DC was perfect timing.”
“We were more than brothers. We were tight. I’m a little mad at him. He wasn’t totally honest with me about how long he was going to be [in D.C.]. He was going to be there for at least a month.”
“Our last words to each other when I dropped him off at his house was ‘I love you brother.’ And he goes, ‘I love you, bro.’ Those were our final words to each other.”
Billy Von Boening, 40
A long-time Savage friend.
“We were some tight mother fuckers. We spent a lot of time together, road dogging, going to shows, watching cartoons, and being the last guys drinking on the keg.”
“We always wanted our friend back. I think he just felt a lot of guilt.”
“[Savage’s heroin addiction] was bad for a long time. He went to jail. We got an apartment. What was it, 2002? He was working at the [tattoo] shop. ‘I’ll see you at work,’ and he was gone for four years, he went to jail, he got picked up for a violation.”
“When he went to Washington, he didn’t say he was going to stay there. He called me Thursday at my shop. He was working for me right before he left. That’s the weird thing. He was talking to my other friend and about moving to Florida. He was on his very last little thing of treatment for heroin. I picked him up a couple times at the clinic. He was getting his license back. And then he moved. That’s the weird thing, dude.”
“I didn’t know he was moving to D.C. We knew he was going for that Turbojugend rally. He was talking about how beautiful, how rad it was going to be.”
“I didn’t think he was going to move—like live there. I didn’t say anything when he called [on Thursday, April 17]—OK, Chris is going to do what he got to do. I would have told him don’t do it. It was kind of hard to understand.”
Donnie Lancaster, 38
He had known Savage for more than 20 years.
“He was like the funniest guy ever. He could make you laugh at anytime, to where you can’t breathe kind of laughing. He was as loyal as it gets.”
“He was just a character. He could make these faces, he could change his voice. He would just do these weird voices—nothing in particular, just hilarious, hilarious.”
“He was one of the first guys that had a job. He worked at Taco Bell. He had a little mini truck in high school.”
“After graduation, he did a bunch of different things. I think he tried to get into tattooing. He also was plumbing, he was in the union I believe. His dad is an old school union man—just really, really cool. I think he was trying to following in his father’s footsteps. something reliable.”
The heroin addiction broke Savages’ parents heart. “This guy had so much support from his family. He was a beautiful person.”
“I talked to him less than a month ago. I saw him at Best Buy. Me and my son saw him. Just gave him hugs. It was just really good to see him….He was there with his mother. He was helping his parents buy something. I look up and I see him, he wasn’t skinny anymore.”
“When Chris was skinny he would make fun of Bill being fat….He would slap Bill on the stomach, he would make the ripple sound, all the way up bill’s head.”
Eric “Guppy” Bonilla, 37
He had known Savage since he was 15.
“He’d always make something funny out of nothing. It seems like a lot of things he would do would carry over, little body movements, things he would say, still amongst our friends, he would do his little skit things. They just stuck like everything he did.”
“We were into the punk scene back in the late ’80s. That was kind of unacceptable back then. It wasn’t a fad thing. I went to a different high school but we all hung out. We all came together as a whole back then. There’s probably maybe 30 of us between the two high schools: [we’d] go to dirt field parties, orchards, in our area—we’re two hours north of LA—not much to do. Someone would take kegs of beer out to the almond orchards. He just always stuck out.”
“A lot of us were late bloomers, we had an apartment. We would go to shows. That was our biggest relief.”
“He was just really into music. Always. Always into the music. I think he was more of a free-spirited guy. Nothing had jumped out and grabbed him. He didn’t like the conformity.”
I heard a story from two different people—[that Savage blamed his] weight gain on [eating] Ramen in jail. I spit my beer across the room. It was just another something to make me laugh, that he told someone that.”
Marc DeLeon, 38
He had known Savage since he was 16.
“He would have horrible nightmares every night—wake up screaming, and he had such guilt of stuff that he did in the past: just the drugs and probably doing things to other people. I caught him doing heroin in the bathroom of my tattoo shop and I physically put him down, because I caught him doing that.”
“About 10 years ago—about 14 years ago, in one of my original locations of my tattoo shops, Chris wanted to get clean, he was using. Next door to us was a nightclub owned by a gay guy, they played techno. Chris he came to us and we put him in the basement with food and stuff. The basement under our store. It had a big heavy door. He was down there until about 5 a.m., [there was] partying in the club upstairs. He had had it because the techno wouldn’t stop.”
“These doors were so thick and heavy with rusty bolts on the hinges. Chris took them out with his teeth to get them out of there, nine of them. He’s sitting at the top of it [asking] ‘Will you please get me out of here?’”
“I’ve known him so long and I’ve seen him go through so much. We all do what we do, you know? For the past five years, maybe four, five years, this man has done everything to make sure everyone smiled because before that he didn’t. He was messed up. He had his addictions and his demons. I feel he was on borrowed time. Someone gave him this gift—I’m going to give you five more years, just to make sure you make everyone you’ve ever known is happy.”
“He turned such a bad thing into a really good thing. I think a lot of people seen that. He was an inspiration with a lot of punk kids….A lot of the local kids knew of him….He pulled himself out of that and still kept his roots and actually became a positive role model.”
Sabrena Sullivan, 21
“We just knew that we really wanted to be with each other forever. From the first time I met him, he was just so warm. He connects with you right away. Right upon meeting him, he wants you to be part of his life. When I was sitting across the table from him, I just looked at him, before we got our meal, we talked about a second date.”
“When we broke up, it was really hard on him. It was hard for him to take losses easily and he wrote me telling me he needs a break from this town, he’s really sad, he couldn’t bare the fact that we weren’t together, he wanted to go to D.C. and have a vacation.”
“I feel bad. I feel like he just didn’t really know that I loved him a lot.”