Liberty shooting leaves unanswered questions

Newsworthy | An investigation is underway as family and friends say goodbye to slain student
by Andrew Branch
Posted 11/27/13, 05:45 pm

Friends and faculty at Southcrest Christian School in Lubbock, Texas, described slain Liberty University student Josh Hathaway on Facebook as a “gentle giant,” with a “huge belly laugh,” a “sweet smile, a sweet spirit, and a ready hug.” Prayers poured from his high school alma mater to his mother Rhonda, who is a teacher there, and to his father and brother.

At about 4 a.m. on Nov. 19, Hathaway allegedly pulled out a hammer and assaulted an armed security guard in a women’s dorm on Liberty’s Lynchburg, Va., campus, a search warrant states. The guard shot and killed Hathaway, 19, in a struggle, which briefly sent the guard to the hospital.

Friends from across the country still wonder what could bring Hathaway to do something so out of his known character. It’s been just over a week since the altercation, and Lynchburg police have yet to comment on the ongoing investigation. Hathaway’s funeral was Tuesday.

Hathaway’s roommate Robert Googe told police Hathaway had been acting unusual, the warrant states. The freshman, on a full academic scholarship, would have faced his first final exams after Thanksgiving. Hathaway’s other roommate, Sean Wong, told the Lynchburg News & Advance that he saw no strange behavior.

Wong and other Facebook friends said it couldn’t have been drugs or alcohol. Hathaway was a Christian and didn’t do that, they said. The campus has seen 75 to 100 drug- or alcohol-related violations each of the past three years. “No matter what mistake you made,” Wong posted on Facebook, “I will always treasure the best part of you in my heart.”

It may be weeks before more details emerge about the circumstances of Hathaway’s death. The identity of the security guard remains unknown. He has been suspended during the investigation.

Liberty officials have not responded to WORLD inquiries about their security personnel’s use-of-force policy and weapons training. In general, deadly force is only used when there is a fear of “death or significant bodily harm.” Of the two shots fired, the warrant states, the hammer-wielding Hathaway was hit by “at least one.” The security guard was an emergency medical technician, Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr. told the media. He was not a police officer, but Liberty requires the same Liberty-specific training for all prospective guards and officers.

There’s also the question of the weapons the guard carried. Lynchburg police officers carry Tasers, but Liberty security personnel do not. Liberty spokesman Johnnie Moore said officers are armed with a gun, a baton, and pepper spray.

Tasers can be used to avoid deadly force in altercations like Hathaway’s. Twenty-nine of the 33 largest U.S. cities use Tasers, according to research compiled by the St. George News in Utah. Many localities, though, like Durham, N.C., and Green Bay, Wis., only started using Tasers in the last five years. Berkeley, Calif., still bans the use of Tasers by police. The law enforcement community debates whether the weapons are abused as an easy way out for less serious confrontations.

Lynchburg Police Lt. Dave Gearhart told me his department has carried Tasers for at least six years. It’s not clear why Liberty officers don’t carry them.

Since last Tuesday’s altercation, the mood on campus has been “somber” and “introspective,” a student told the Christian Post. At last Wednesday’s campus-wide convocation, Falwell and students mourned several other south-central Virginia tragedies that day: A state senator was allegedly stabbed by his son, a Liberty student lost a twin in a car accident, and another Liberty student attempted suicide. “We ask that you pray for each other, support each other, help each other get through these events,” Falwell said.

Sharing a story from his own life, Falwell told students his grandfather shot his own brother in self-defense in 1931 and that his grandfather carried the burden for 16 years and plunged into alcoholism, which eventually led to his death. Falwell pled with students to seek counsel for stress.

As both Lubbock and Lynchburg continue to recover, Hathaway’s friends are looking to the future. “As Josh and I hugged each other on the night before he left for college, we agreed on no goodbyes,” Hathaway family friend Bill Lane wrote on the Southcrest Facebook page. “It was a simple ‘see ya later.’ So, see ya later in Heaven my sweet young friend.”

Andrew Branch

Andrew is a freelance writer living in Raleigh, N.C. He was homeschooled for 12 years and recently graduated from N.C. State University. He writes about sports and poverty for WORLD. Follow Andrew on Twitter @AndrewABranch.

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