The air was thick and emotions ran high Wednesday as approximately 2,000 students stood with candlelight reflecting on their tear-soaked cheeks, tears for a fallen football star.
University of Connecticut students and officials hosted a candlelight vigil in memory of Jasper Howard, the starting cornerback of the football team stabbed to death Sunday outside the Student Union building.
Although the vigil was a chance for the campus community to come together and mourn the loss of Howard, football team representatives told students it was time to move on with their lives.
“It has to be through our love, through one another, through our faith from God above, through our families and also through our friends,” said UConn Head Football Coach Randy Edsall. “That’s when we draw our strength, our resolve.
“You know Jazz (Howard’s nickname) would want us all to go on with our lives,” he said.
Edsall said he was staying strong for his players, but the loss of Howard was especially hard on him. “I lost my father in February,” he said. “And now I’ve lost Jasper.”
During the vigil, eight members of the football team and others close to Howard took the stage and thanked the campus community for their support.
However, they told students to stop being sad and start being thankful for having Howard as part of their lives, even if it was for only a little while.
“It’s time to be strong,” said Kijuan Dabney, a UConn junior and linebacker on the football team. “Just be happy that Jazz taught us what he taught us.”
Dabney said students had to be strong for the football team, for one another and for Edsall — who has been at the center of the national media swirl around the investigation.
“We all know he’s been under a lot of pressure,” said Dabney as his voice cracked. “We lost a brother, but, Coach Edsall, he lost a son.”
Throughout the hour-and-a-half-long event, tears were visible and crying clearly audible.
But there was one moment that brought even the driest eye to its breaking point — the moment Dabney gave his letterman jacket to Edsall.
“I hope this lifts the burden off your shoulders,” said Dabney. “This nation is going to comfort you now.”
The sleeves of the jacket were signed by players, students and university officials.
On the back was a photo of Edsall with his arm wrapped around the shoulders of Howard as they walked toward the sidelines.
It was at this moment — when Edsall cried — that it seemed the rest of the campus community cried with him.
Edsall, taking the podium for a second time, told students to look around and tell the people near them they love them. “Tell somebody you love them everyday,” he said as he instructed students to hug one another.
Undergraduate student body President Thomas Haggerty told students the death of Howard has brought the UConn “family” closer together over a puzzling matter.
“The only detail of which we are certain is that we’re devastated and that we grieve,” he said. “Our community has answered the call to unite.
“We recognize we have lost a member of the UConn family and that does not sit well in our stomach,” Haggerty said. “(But) the spirit of UConn is strong and it does not falter.”
Following the vigil — where students walked to and surrounded Mirror Lake near Route 195 — students gathered their strength and wiped away tears from their eyes.
“I was kind of surprised they were talking about being strong three days later,” said sophomore Trevor Rzucidlo of Danielson. “But I guess you have to do that eventually.”
Posted Oct. 23, 2009