In a strong representation of unity and love, the University of Utah paid tribute to fallen player Aaron Lowe with an emotional candlelight vigil Wednesday night.
A large group of students and other members of the university community gathered on the southwest lawn of the A. Ray Olpin Student Union building.
There were hugs, tears, quiet reflections and prayers. And there were candles lifted in memory of Lowe, who was tragically shot and killed early Sunday morning at an off-campus party.
During the somber event, the U. on the hill was lit in Lowe’s honor.
The theme of the night from those that addressed the crowd was a plea to live their lives “22% better,” a reference to the jersey number that Lowe wore. It was previously worn by his close friend, and teammate, Ty Jordan, who died last December.
“Tonight as we remember Aaron, as a student, a teammate, a friend, a son and a brother, “ said university president Taylor Randall, “I hope we remember him and honor him by doing what we can both individually and collectively as a university community by being better for him — 22% better for him.”
For Utah’s football program, the No. 22 will forever carry deep significance, considering the grief and heartbreak that it has experienced over the past year.
The school established a scholarship in Jordan’s name and before the season kicked off and Lowe was named the first recipient of the Ty Jordan Memorial Scholarship by Utah’s Leadership Council.
Lowe and Jordan were high school teammates at West Mesquite High School in Mesquite, Texas.
Coach Kyle Whittingham said Lowe shared a lot in common with Jordan.
“His smile, his personality, just like one of his best friends, Ty Jordan, lit up the room anytime he came into a room,” he said.
Whittingham expressed his love for the sophomore defensive back.
“Aaron, I know you can hear us. I want to say collectively that we love you. I’m truly grateful for the privilege I had to coach you,” he said. “I will always keep you in my heart and in my mind forever. I’m very confident, Aaron, that we will meet again and we will see you again.”
“I loved Aaron. I still love him,” said freshman cornerback Clark Phillips. “He loved each and every one of you here. He was the hardest worker, the most compassionate, loving person I ever knew.”
Athletic director Mark Harlan spent considerable time with Lowe’s mother, Donna, this week.
“She’s a remarkable woman. She told me that God had a plan and she was at peace about that. Then she told me how much Aaron loved the University of Utah,” he said. “Coach (Morgan) Scalley and Coach (Sharrieff) Shah entered his home and when he earned that scholarship, it was a moment … He made it to the University of Utah, which was a dream for him. She also spoke at length about his last day on earth, playing a football game, in the place that he loved, with his teammates, who he loved greatly, on national TV. That was his dream. That was his experience here.”
Harlan encouraged the football team, the athletic department and the university community to lean on and support one another during this difficult time.
“Where do we go from here? I wish I had all the answers. I certainly don’t. But here’s something I do know,” he said. “I know that this department of student-athletes are a family. Families take care of each other in the very best of times and the very worst of times. The only thing I know is to get through this together … We can get through this together, for him.”
Taylor said the lighting of the U. was done “as a testament to (Lowe’s) wonderful life.”
Added Taylor, “As we leave tonight, I want to share with you something that Donna, Aaron’s mother, said over and over and over again — that he was a light. He was not just a light to her but to everyone that knew him. I think in that light there is a promise. It’s a promise that if we take his bright light and we clutch it close to our souls and let it live within us, we can be better.”
Police are still searching for Lowe’s killer. The investigation is ongoing and the woman that was also shot that night remains in the hospital and is in critical but stable condition.
Harlan expressed gratitude for everyone that has reached out to support the University of Utah community since Lowe’s passing.
“Thank you for the messages and the outpouring,” he said. “It’s been noted and, frankly, it’s been needed. We’re very, very grateful. Twenty-two forever.”