A year after Utah football player Aaron Lowe was killed, what’s the latest in court?

Mother, teammates seek out ways to honor player shot outside a party more than a year ago.

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) The family of Aaron Lowe, including his mother Donna Lowe-Stern, Lowe's older brother, Christopher Jackson and Lowe's sister Davetta Jones weep as Lowe is remembered Saturday. For the first time in school history, the University of Utah has officially retired the No. 22 in its football program. The designation happened during the Utes game against UCLA at Rice-Eccles Stadium on Oct. 30, 2021. Retiring No. 22 honors two players who have lost their lives in the past year, running back Ty Jordan, who died Dec. 25 and defensive back Aaron Lowe, who died Sept. 26, 2021. Lowe-Stern has not returned to Utah since that game.

After she got off of work Tuesday afternoon, Donna Lowe-Stern planned to spend some time with her son at his grave in a Dallas-area cemetery. It had been exactly one year this week since the body of Aaron Lowe, a beloved member of the University of Utah football team, was interred there — one difficult, emotional, draining year for the mother of a young man she said “would give you the shirt off his back.”

It’s been more than a year, though, since Lowe-Stern spoke to Fuamoli Pomale. The 20-year-old woman was shot alongside Lowe on a park strip outside a house party in Sugar House in the early morning hours of Sept. 26, 2021. Pomale survived despite enduring multiple gunshot wounds in her chest and neck. Lowe, 21, did not.

“I think it’s more or less that I haven’t spoken with her because I’m afraid of the conversation,” Lowe-Stern said in a phone interview Tuesday with The Tribune. “Because she’s the only one that can actually give me details of actually what happened.

“And it’s scary.”

The clearer picture those details will paint, Lowe-Stern fears, might make one of the worst nights of her life feel too real, too tangible. But her conscious avoidance of Pomale isn’t all that has kept Lowe-Stern from discovering exactly what happened that dark night. More than a year after Lowe’s death, the man who allegedly killed him has yet to be put on trial — and the delay, which isn’t unusual for the court system, has made it especially difficult for those closest to Lowe to move forward from his death.

“I can’t get closure,” Lowe-Stern said, “until I know what is going to happen with this young man.”

That won’t be until next year at the earliest. After three delays, the preliminary hearing for Buk Mawut Buk is set to begin Feb. 3. The hearing, which will determine if enough evidence exists to try Buk and may reveal more details from that night, will be held at the Matheson Courthouse in Salt Lake City. That’s little more than two miles from Rice-Eccles Stadium, where Lowe and former teammate Ty Jordan will be honored Saturday during the Utes’s game against USC.

Jordan, a former Utah running back, died almost exactly nine months before Lowe from an accidental, self-inflicted gunshot wound. Lowe, who had been teammates with Jordan in high school, was the first recipient of the Ty Jordan Memorial Scholarship. The recipient of this year’s scholarship — now named for both players — is Ja’Quinden Jackson, who also grew up in the Dallas area and knew Jordan since eighth grade.

(Utah Athletics) Ja'Quinden Jackson, left, switched from quarterback to running back this season. Jackson said he misses talking over big decisions like that with teammate Aaron Lowe, who was shot outside a house party more than a year ago. The man charged with murdering him has yet to face trial.

Jordan died just five days after Jackson committed to the Utah squad. In the aftermath, Lowe became not just a friend to Jackson, but a confidant and therapist. Jackson, a redshirt freshman who recently switched positions from quarterback to running back, said of starting the season without Lowe “It sucked, I’m not going to lie.”

“Ever since the first day I got here, it’s been him,” Jackson said. “Since I’ve been here, he was the one I talked to, get closure from if I’m having a situation going on back home or here. [I’d say,] ‘Hey, what you doing?’ ‘Hey, can I talk to you?’

“So for me not to be able to do that, I got like a lot of stuff bottled up inside of me. But me being on the field a little bit helps a little.”

Among the items Jackson is choosing to bottle up is the weight of the unresolved court case.

“Of course it’s going to affect things, but I try not to put it in front of my head because then it will affect me in the long run,” Jackson said. “But it’s definitely still there.”

Within days of Lowe’s death, police arrested Buk in connection with the shooting. A Sudanese refugee believed to be 23 years old, Buk faces felony charges of aggravated murder, attempted aggravated murder, possession of a firearm by a restricted person and obstruction of justice. The aggravated murder charge can carry the death penalty, though prosecutors will decide whether to seek it only after the case’s preliminary hearing.

This is the picture of that night that investigators and witnesses — including Pomale, who had to type responses from her hospital bed because her injuries restricted her ability to talk — painted for police:

The house party, which began following the Utes’ victory over Washington State, had begun to get out of control. Several uninvited people showed up and fights were breaking out. As a result, the host asked numerous people to leave, including Buk, who was among the party crashers. Around that same time, Lowe went out to move his car. Four men standing in front of it would not budge, however, and Lowe got into an argument with them. It is unclear whether Buk was in that group.

Yet soon after, Buk approached a man in his group who was sitting in a garage, said something to him in a low voice, and then retrieved a pistol from the man’s bag, according to a probable cause document that led to the warrant for Buk’s arrest. Buk then left the property and crossed the street. From there, according to witness reports, he allegedly fired two or three times at Lowe and Pomale from afar. He fired five or six more shots at close range while Lowe and Pomale were on the ground, witnesses told police.

Pomale told investigators that Buk had come over to “finish them off.”

Buk Mawut Buk, 22, appears remotely for court on Friday, Oct. 15, 2021. Buk is charged with aggravated murder in the shooting death of University of Utah football player Aaron Lowe.

At the time, Buk was already on probation for two robberies that he had been convicted of committing in 2019. The robberies were part of a series of crimes that Buk had been charged with dating back to at least 2017, court records show.

Buk remains in Salt Lake County jail, where he is being held without bail.

Lowe-Stern said what hurts most is that Buk didn’t know Lowe or the quality of person he was.

“I just want him prosecuted because he didn’t even know my son,” she said. “You know, I might have been able to handle it more better if my son was out there dealing drugs and fighting in the streets and packing guns and all those kind of things. But that wasn’t Aaron. So you took a kid’s life that violence was not in him nowhere.”

Lowe’s aura — along with that of Jordan, a burgeoning star — still looms large over the Utes program. Lowe-Stern said members of the coaching staff still check in on her regularly, including, and probably especially, on the days they know she’ll most need their kindness. The week of the one-year anniversary of Lowe’s death, coach Kyle Whittingham opened his Monday press conference by reaffirming his support for Lowe’s family.

“We just wanted to let Aaron’s family know how they’re in our thoughts and prayers. We miss him,” Whittingham said. “We want to make sure we acknowledge that. We’ll always remember Aaron and Ty.”

This weekend, adding emotional complexity to what has already been billed as their biggest game of the year, the Utes planned to honor Lowe and Jordan by wearing helmets painted with their images. It’s a reminder that the team has not moved on from the twin tragedies. The rallying cry “Be 22% better” — which emerged immediately after Lowe’s death and reflects the jersey number worn by both players — has wound itself into the fabric of the team and beyond.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah’s Grace McCallum waits her turn on the floor as she honors the memory of football players Ty Jordan and Aaron Lowe along with the rest of the gymnastics team at the Best of Utah NCAA Gymnastics Meet at the Maverik Center in West Valley City on Friday, Jan. 7, 2022.

Lowe-Stern said the Utah community has also given graciously this year to her charity drive for the Dallas-area homeless. Three years ago she began collecting hats, coats, scarves and gloves and has a goal of distributing at least 100 of each during a Thanksgiving dinner. She said she knew Lowe would have readily stepped up to help, and she wants to do something in his name that might help patch the cracks in her heart.

“I have a little bit more drive this year, because I did it in honor of my son,” she said. “Because if Aaron was here and I said, ‘Aaron, we’re going to feed the homeless,’ [he’d say,] ‘OK, Mama. We going.’ Because he was that kid that would jump right in and do it because he would give you the shirt off his back.”

Lowe-Stern planned to be at Saturday’s game. She said it will be the first one she attended in Utah since late last October, when the team retired the No. 22. Her next trip to Utah will likely be for the preliminary hearing which she plans to attend as well as the trial.

Details about that night are sure to spill out if the case goes to trial, and she’ll deal with them as they come. She’s hoping Pomale testifies. Based on the evidence police have shared with her, though, she already knows she wants Buk to be convicted. And she wants him to get the maximum sentence: life without parole.

As for the death penalty?

“It’s not my job to decide whether he lives or dies,” she said. “It’s not.”

Mostly, she and many others who knew her son just want the trial to be over, to have a little closure. They hope it will bring them some relief, even if it won’t bring back Lowe.

“At the end of the day. He’s still not here. I still can’t hug and tell him I love him. I still can’t touch him,” Jackson said. “So I don’t really think nothing will make me good.”