Remembering my little brother Harrison

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Photo Credit: Iris Bilich | Daily Texan Staff

Today marks the two-year anniversary of my little brother’s murder. It was two years ago that his hand, the hand that selflessly handed out so much to others, was stilled; and his voice, the voice that sang songs of hope and encouragement to so many, was hushed. The events of that day took place in the heart of our University. It is a day that I, and so many others, will never forget. 

May 1, 2017, was a Monday. I was finishing my first year of law school at St. Mary’s University School of Law in San Antonio. The day was already significant for two reasons. First, my wife and I were celebrating our son turning 11 months old that day. Second, my daunting property law final exam was scheduled for that afternoon. Law school exams come with an enormous amount of pressure; the butterflies in my stomach that morning seemed to have reason to exist.

Like my preparation for other exams, my morning was spent on campus reviewing my property notes one last time. When it came time for testing, my classmates and I filed into the classroom like cattle in a slaughterhouse. But as I took my seat and the proctor read the instructions, the strange feeling in my gut intensified. It was a feeling I had never experienced before. It was more than just a manifestation of my exam anxiety. I simply could not shake the feeling. The exam began, but my ability to pay attention and recall information became increasingly difficult. I could feel it in my bones that something, somewhere in the universe, was terribly wrong. It was about that moment when I looked up from my test to find the proctor staring down at me. In her hands, she held a folded piece of paper. She passed it to me, and I opened it up. The message read, “You have an emergency phone call. Call your wife immediately.” 

I darted out of the classroom to call my wife. While waiting for her to pick up the phone, I began imagining many of the horrible scenarios for which she might call. My first thought — our son fell down the stairs and was in the emergency room getting stitches. Then, I thought something had happened to my dad. My dear daddy was in the final stages of Lou Gehrig’s disease. He was confined to a power chair, unable to walk, speak, eat or breathe on his own. I feared that he had fallen out of his chair and injured himself, or worse, that he had passed away. But my wildest imaginations could not have been further from the truth. When my wife finally answered my call, she told me, in a calm and collected voice, that my little brother had been stabbed. Harrison had just finished a game of basketball and was walking out of Gregory Gymnasium when a fellow student came up to him and thrust a knife into his chest. She could not tell me where he was or his condition. I left St. Mary’s campus and headed to Austin — I would be there for my little brother.

While battling my way through traffic on Interstate 35, I just remember repeating out loud, “Don’t worry Harrison, big brother is coming, big brother is coming” and offering prayer after prayer. Despite my prayers and incantations, the strange feeling remained in my gut. Only now do I understand what the feeling represented. I knew that something horrifying had occurred. 

Then my phone rang. My phone was mounted on the dashboard of my car and I could see that it was my wife calling. The moment her name came up on the screen of my phone I knew what she was about to tell me. I answered her call and said nothing. She said, with sheer horror in her voice, “John,” she paused to take a deep breath, “Harrison died. He didn’t make it.”

I still have a hard time believing that my little brother is gone. I have an even harder time believing that my brother was murdered on the campus of my own alma mater — a school I loved and took great pride in attending. I think of all the times that I entered and exited Gregory Gymnasium. I could have never imagined that I was walking past the place where my little brother’s life would end. Harrison loved this school. He thought it was a phenomenal place. It is my opinion that The University of Texas remains a phenomenal place. It is a phenomenal place because of its students — students we recently lost, like my brother, Haruka Weiser and Nicky Cumberland, and the many students who were murdered by Charles Whitman in 1966. In each instance of tragedy, UT students rallied together and because of that, this school remains a phenomenal place. 

As fellow students and Longhorns, we must look out for each other. We are truly our brother’s keeper. Several of these murders were preventable if people had intervened when help was available. By keeping an open eye and reporting things that don’t seem quite right, we can prevent further acts of horror and can prevent the deaths of other students. 

As I walk across the stage at St. Mary’s University School of Law this month, accept my Juris Doctorate degree and speak on behalf of my classmates at commencement, I will know in my heart that Harrison would have been there, holding his almost 3-year-old nephew, so proud of his big brother. As students, alumni, parents and grandparents, one thing holds true — at the end of the day, all that we have is each other.