While the rest of his teammates huddled together in the corner of LaVell Edwards Stadium, Aaron Lowe stood alone. The University of Utah’s No. 22 waited on the 23-yard line for the Utes to rush onto the field.
Lowe believed it was his mission to make sure no one ever forgot Ty Jordan, his close friend and teammate.
The two young men had come to Utah from the same high school in West Mesquite, Texas. When Jordan, a running back coming off an exceptional freshman season, died of an accidental, self-inflicted gunshot wound last December, Lowe was devastated.
They were close and Lowe had felt as if he’d let his brother down.
So on the night of the Utah-BYU game, Lowe stood alone and waved a red flag, reminding his teammates, the 65,000 people in the stadium, and anyone else who could see him of something bigger than the game they were about to play. He reminded them to not forget, that brothers are brothers always, that life is a precious thing.
It has been one week since Lowe, 21, was shot and killed outside a Salt Lake City house party — nine months to the day after Jordan’s death — and that image, Lowe waving that flag, has now been etched into the minds of so many.
“It feels like déjà vu, but I haven’t accepted it, I haven’t grieved yet,” said Joey Moss, a Texas football coach who mentored both Lowe and Jordan. “The similarities are so eerie. It’s going to hit me harder than when Ty died. The relationships were as great between me and Aaron as it was between me and Ty. It’s just the fact that I don’t want to believe this. It’s just too similar. He was just holding up a Ty Jordan flag at BYU two weeks ago.”
A mother’s grief
As she flew from Dallas to Salt Lake City on Sunday, Donna Lowe-Stern hoped it was all a bad dream, that her son would be there when she landed.
“[Monday], I was able to see him, and once I saw him, I knew that it was real,” Lowe-Stern said this week.
Lowe, a University of Utah sophomore cornerback, was at a party in the 2200 block of South Broadmoor Street in Sugar House, near the mouth of Parleys Canyon early Sunday morning. When a group of uninvited guests showed up at the house, someone called 911 to report a fight involving a gun. Lowe and an unidentified woman were both shot outside the house as police prepared to make a “tactical approach”. The woman was taken to a hospital in critical condition. Lowe was pronounced dead at the scene.
Lowe-Stern has told reporters that police have informed her that her son was simply “in the wrong place at the wrong time”.
“He was a good kid,” Lowe-Stern said. “He was a child that out of 12 years of school, I never one time had to go to the school for him. He was never disobedient, never disrespectful, he was always an amenable kid, amenable until the day he died. ‘Yes, ma’am,’ ‘no, ma’am,’ he had a lot of respect for people.”
Police have said there are leads in the case. But at the time the Lowe-Stern had planned to leave Utah to take her son’s body home to Texas, no arrests had been made.
“It’s been very hard on me and my family,” Lowe-Stern said.
If she has found comfort this week, it has been in the places her son felt most comfortable. On Monday, Lowe-Stern visited with Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham and athletics director Mark Harlan.
“He made it to the University of Utah, which was a dream for him. We spoke in great detail about that,” Harlan recalled later. “We also spoke in great detail about how his last day on earth was playing a football game in a place he loved, with teammates he loved greatly.”
Who was Aaron Lowe?
Football is a fundamental part of this story.
“Aaron has been playing football since he was eight or nine years old, and he had a love for it. Just a kid that knew what he wanted,” Lowe-Stern said.
But Lowe had to work hard for what he wanted.
Lowe traveled with a highly recruited friend and high school teammate to visit big-time college football schools — Ohio State, Michigan, Georgia, LSU — but made it clear he didn’t want to ride anyone’s coattails. Lowe wanted to blaze his own trail. He had to switch positions, from wide receiver to cornerback, and put in work to get noticed himself.
Lowe and Jordan were both members of True Buzz Athletics, a Dallas-based organization known mostly for its nationally acclaimed 7-on-7 football program. Moss, a True Buzz coach, saw firsthand the work that Lowe put in in order to make his way to the Power Five level.
“He was a physical player, but he never got too riled up, never got himself over-hyped, he just loved football and he worked super-hard,” Moss said via phone on Monday. “He was a no-offer, no-star athlete, but he started blossoming in the spring of his junior year, and into his senior year.”
All the work came to fruition when he arrived at Utah. Lowe was not a star for the Utes, but he was a dependable special teams player and cornerback.
Aaron Marquis Lowe was more than just a football player, though. He was a son, a brother (a triplet in fact), and a kind and sharp communications major who cared about what was happening in the world that surrounded him.
Rachel Alicia Griffin taught Lowe in two classes in the communications department. “Race mattered to him and he deeply and intimately understood the precarity of being a Black male,” she said.
Nahum Tadesse, a student at the U double majoring in political science and international studies, became acquainted with Lowe through classes and events. Three times each week, their schedules aligned where their paths would cross as they walked through campus.
“Every time, no matter what, he would always come up to me, talk to me for a few minutes, ask me what’s up, how was I doing,” Tadesse said. “Just being really caring. … Everyone loved him on campus.”
And Lowe loved the U.
“He loved Salt Lake, he never wanted to come home,” said Moss, the Texas football coach and mentor. “He never came home for breaks because he had created a bond with those people there. Always smiling, super positive, always called you back when he missed a call. He was a people person, a team guy, a good teammate. He never griped about anything. He was genuinely happy at the University of Utah.”
“He got through it because he loved Ty”
Whittingham led a stoic and somber march across campus on Wednesday night. The coach mustered the strength to speak to the hundreds who had gathered for a candlelight vigil.
In doing so, he tried to speak directly to Lowe.
“Aaron, I know you can hear us,” Whittingham said. “We want to say collectively that we love you. I’m truly grateful to have had the privilege to coach you. I’ll always keep you in my mind, in my heart forever. And I’m very confident that we’ll meet again [and] we’ll get to see you again.”
For the second time in nine months, Utah’s head coach is in the difficult position of having to comfort a family and a football team.
“He’s a very concerned man, a very loving man, his whole heart was in Aaron,” Lowe-Stern said after meeting with Whittingham this week. “Everything that we talked about, he was showing me his sympathy. He’s a good man. I think he cried more than I did.”
Aaron Lowe knew grief, too.
One year apart in school and age, Lowe had always thought of himself as Jordan’s big brother. When Jordan died, part of Lowe felt responsible, Moss said. Lowe had felt like he should have been by Jordan’s side on the night he died to protect him. He was filled with grief and regret and, eventually, a sense of duty.
“It was hard. We processed it with prayer and remembering that the Lord is with us. He knew to pray and ask God for the strength, and he got through it,” Lowe-Stern said. “He got through it because he loved Ty. He got past it.”
Lowe switched jersey numbers, from 2 to the 22 Jordan had worn. He earned the first Ty Jordan Memorial Scholarship at the University of Utah. He vowed to keep his friend’s memory alive.
“He was proud to wear Ty’s jersey, he wanted to keep Ty’s legacy going and he did until now,” Lowe-Stern said. “Aaron came out here one year and Ty came out here the next. They were together again, and now, they’re together again.”
As those close to Lowe begin to grapple with their own grief and regret, they believe it is now their duty to carry a flag of sorts for Lowe. At the vigil this week, the Utes spoke of being “22% better” and forging ahead with their season as ways of honoring Lowe’s life.
“If you see somebody hurting, go tell them that you love them, give them a hug, all of that stuff because that’s what Aaron would do,” Utes cornerback Clark Phillips III said.
Freshman quarterback Ja’Quinden Jackson, meanwhile, made the kind of promise Lowe himself once vowed.
“For the rest of my life, I’m going to rep your name,” Jackson said. “I will never let your name die, bro.”