But they were dating, and he killed her. As far as the law and public health norms are concerned, it was a case of dating violence.
Nate's family doesn't see it that way. To them, Lauren's death was a tragic consequence of mental illness, not the result of dating violence.
His parents declined to be interviewed for this story. His lawyer, William Sullivan, told jurors in his trial that the teen suffered from severe depression. A forensic psychiatrist testified that his family was aware of his struggles with depression and sought treatment when his grades began to suffer during his senior year.
"According to testimony, the Fujita family, in fact, did not ignore signs that he needed help; they did everything they could to help him," Sullivan said in a phone interview.
Regardless, educators, parents and students around the community where Lauren was raised decided to make a change.
Knowing when to speak up
The impact of Lauren's death reverberated through her hometown, down Boston Post Road to the home of Wayland's rival, Lincoln-Sudbury Regional High School, or "LS" as it's known.
Students from the two schools grow up together, just three miles apart on a congested two-lane road between their once-rural exurbs. They play each other in sports, compete for roles in community theater productions and hang out in the same Dunkin' Donuts after school.
Lincoln-Sudbury students know Water Road, the tree-covered path that loops around the nature preserve near their school. When runners and lacrosse players jog, they pass near the marsh where a local resident spotted Lauren's knees popping from the brackish water the morning of July 4, 2011.
"Lauren's death could've happened to a student at LS," said Sam Chen, who's graduating from Lincoln-Sudbury this year, bound for Amherst in the fall to play lacrosse.
A National Merit Scholar finalist and co-captain of the champion lacrosse team, Chen added to his busy schedule this year by joining the school's "Mentors in Violence Prevention" team formed in response to Lauren's death.
The program was developed in 1993 at Northeastern University's Sport in Society. It enlists student athletes and leaders to speak out against sexual harassment and other forms of abuse typically considered "women's issues."
"People, especially teens, think there's only one way to respond to a tense situation, either by sticking their necks out or doing nothing at all. There are a lot of options in between," said Safe Schools Coordinator Lori Hodin, who helped start the program at Lincoln-Sudbury.
Male and female student athletes participated in daylong training sessions using the "MVP playbook," which employs sports terms to discuss scenarios from the minefield of adolescence. Hodin and four faculty facilitators led discussions on ways bystanders could respond, and how to recognize themselves as potential perpetrators.
The scenarios range from gang-rape and drunken come-ons to street harassment and gay-bashing. After "running the plays," students said they realized they witness warning signs of troubled relationships every day in the halls of their high school.
They seem meaningless on their own, but they add up to a disturbing trend, said John Sexton, a rising senior who plays lacrosse and football.
He knows girls and guys who are overly protective of their partners to the point of being possessive, he said. They keep tabs on their partners through social media and constant texting. They overreact if they don't get a response within minutes.
The training showed Kimberley Heller, a cheerleading co-captain starting at U.S. Naval Academy this month, how she could have responded differently to a past relationship. She stayed with a boyfriend her friends called "annoying and clingy," despite his insistence that she spend all her free time with him. When she broke it off, he threatened to kill himself, texted her hundreds of times and followed her around school. She eventually requested supervision from school staff.
She stuck around despite signs that the relationship wasn't a good one, she said. If she knew then what she knows now, she would've ended the relationship as soon as he started trying to control her, she said.
"MVP has given me the confidence to speak up for myself and to talk to my friends about relationships," she said. "If bystanders can learn to be comfortable speaking up, it will go a long way in the community."
The students said they rarely intervene in physical or sexual abuse. But even in their relatively safe, sheltered middle-class communities, they still see reasons to step in where they might have stayed silent before.
The most common hostile scenario they encounter is the locker room. It's a high concentration of young guys, no girls and little adult supervision. MVP team members said they're trying to change the language and tone of "trash talk" to make people think twice about calling someone a bitch, a fag or even joking about sexually aggressive behavior.
It comes up often, Chen said. Recently, he called out a teammate for talking about what he'd like to do to a girl who passed by during football practice.
"C'mon man, that's not cool," he responded.
Another favorite response of his: "What if that was your sister or mother?"