Joell McNew picked up a call from her son, theatre and dance sophomore Connor Sullivan, who described a swarm of police cars on campus.
McNew said his voice was shaking and he was obviously scared, something she doesn’t hear very often. A student in the same college as Sullivan had been killed on campus.
Dance freshman Haruka Weiser’s death in April shocked many on campus, including Sullivan and his mother, but McNew decided to respond to the tragedy by taking action.
In the days that followed, McNew and Jennifer Comstock, mother of public relations junior Madison Comstock, created the groundwork for SafeHorns, a parent-led organization committed to improving safety for members of the UT community.
“Having my son come across [Haruka’s] murder scene when the first responders found her body, and then him calling me and being so upset, I thought, ‘I get it,’” McNew said. “I am very fortunate that it hasn’t happened to our family, but I guess it left such a big impact that I don’t want anyone to go through that.”
Now, after months of working with officials and law enforcement both on campus and in Austin, McNew and Comstock will be awarded the Outstanding Crime Prevention Citizen Award by the Central Texas Crime Prevention Association today at a ceremony in Killeen, Texas.
University of Texas police officer Darrell Halstead, who has served with UTPD for 29 years and now guards the President’s office in the Tower, nominated the two after seeing their work with the community. Halstead said it wasn’t only his idea to nominate them but rather something the entire department supports.
“One of the things we had been pushing for while I was there was to have parents, the community, students, the city of Austin and University working together for a common goal,” Halstead said.
After Weiser’s death, Halstead said he watched McNew and Comstock take a proactive approach to safety in the community.
“All of a sudden, there’s a parents’ group that has taken notice and has shown a lot of concern for the safety and security of the students that are out here,” Halstead said. “Not only for their Longhorn son or daughter, but for other students that are out here.”
Comstock, president of SafeHorns, said the goal of the organization is to make campus and the area around campus safer for all members of the UT community.
“SafeHorns is about positive, constructive action to improve safety,” Comstock said. “We don’t want anybody to live in fear or to be fearful in any way.”
Comstock said she is grateful that law enforcement has recognized her and the organization.
“To have UTPD nominate us for this, and for the law enforcement community to recognize us for this, is amazing,” Comstock said.
By winning the Central Texas award, McNew said they advance to the state level of the award, which will take place in June. McNew said she is
humbled by the award, especially since Halstead was the one who nominated them.
“It’s so incredibly humbling to have someone of Officer Halstead’s experience to first of all even acknowledge us without even meeting us,” McNew said. “Most importantly, to have us be awarded for Central Texas and hoping that other people get involved, that it inspires them that one person can make a difference.”