The Days After: Students Pay Tribute to UT Stabbing Victims with Candlelight Vigil

Pain throws your heart to the ground,
Love turns the whole thing around,
Fear is a friend who’s misunderstood,
But I know the heart of life is good.

Those lyrics rang out in front of the Tower Wednesday evening, as hundreds of students gathered to hug friends and remember Harrison Brown, the freshman undergraduate studies student who died Monday afternoon in a fatal campus stabbing incident. The song, John Mayer’s “The Heart of Life,” was one of Brown’s favorites.

The days following the incident have been filled with confusion and anxiety for many students. Everyone has their own story from that day—where they were, what they saw, what they heard. But the vigil was a chance to put those thoughts aside and come together to celebrate Brown’s life.

If you knew Harrison, you probably got used to seeing him on his phone, but he usually wasn’t watching videos—he was talking to his family,” UT President Greg Fenves said to the crowd. “He spoke with them every single day.

Brown was close with his family, especially his father Kurt, who suffers from ALS. Brown joined the Phi Delt fraternity at UT because of the group’s philanthropic efforts for ALS research. He participated in several charity events supporting ALS research, including the Austin Walk to Defeat ALS last year. At the end of the walk, he and his brother lifted their father out of his wheelchair and helped him to the finish line.

Brown also had a love for music. He could be found jamming out to Billy Joel while sitting in traffic, or singing with the UT a cappella group the Ransom Notes. Kayla Fuentez, a biology senior and Brown’s peer mentor in the University Leadership Network, said, “every week, Harrison would walk into the classroom in his light-wash jeans and polo shirt, usually humming and singing.” According to Fenves, Brown was interested in the Butler School of Music.

The memorial ended with a rendition of “Amazing Grace,” performed by the Ransom Notes. Biochemistry sophomore Benedict Anwukah has been a member of the Ransom Notes for the past two years and met Brown through the group. “We had some rebuilding in our group, and when he joined, he was so positive and uplifting toward what we were trying to do,” Anwukah said. “He really reminded us how we had to be hopeful about our group.”

People who didn’t know Brown were moved by the vigil. Biology freshman Maddie Gerhard was sitting near the area where the attack occurred. She said it’s been difficult to put the resulting anxieties out of her mind while continuing with classes these past few days, but the vigil was an opportunity to unite with her fellow grieving students. “I feel the students have handled it like any group of Longhorns would,” Gerhard said. “I’m proud to be a part of a community that can come and celebrate someone’s life like this.”

In the days that followed the tragedy, a number of memorial funds have been created for the victims. The university has launched a memorial fund to work with the Brown family and help determine how these donations will be used to best honor their son. Hours after the incident, freshman Hendrick Liaw created the “Harrison Brown Memorial Fund,” a GoFundMe page to support the Brown family that has since raised over $148,000. Another GoFundMe was created for one of the three other victims of Monday’s stabbing incident, Stuart Bayliss, an engineering sophomore and ROTC member, that has reached over $50,000. The fund is intended to help with Bayliss’ medical bills and months of physical therapy, according to the page.

Others have taken to social media to express their positive memories of Brown. A video Brown posted on his Facebook page at the end of last year, a cover of the song “I’ll Be,” by Edwin McCain, has been shared more than 5,000 times, a tribute to his musical talent.

As the sun began to set Wednesday evening and the vigil came to a close, students held up candles and the hook ’em hand sign in silence. Then, “I’ll Be” came through the speakers.

“To the victims who have survived, know that the University of Texas will always be here for you, that you will always have this community to rely on,” Fenves said. “Harrison Brown. He is gone, but has left a legacy of positivity, thoughtfulness, and devotion for us to absorb and to reflect upon.”

Editor’s Note: If you wish to send condolences to the Brown family, you can send a message to the Brown family via UT-Austin’s Office of the Vice President for Student Affairs. Please send your card or letter to:

The Family of Harrison Brown

c/o Office of the Vice President for Student Affairs

The University of Texas at Austin

PO Box 7699

Austin, Texas 78713-7699

 

Brown, Harrison Memorial 2017 on the Main Mall on May 3, 2017. Photo courtesy Marsha Miller. 

 

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