About 2,000 UConn students, faculty, and staff mourned slain football player Jasper Howard Wednesday night during a powerful and moving vigil in his honor on the Student Union Mall.
As the half-dozen speakers finished their comments, the crowd, carrying candles and strung out the length of two football fields, walked in almost complete silence to Mirror Lake. There they ringed nearly three-quarters of the lake to hear a prayer from Willena Kimpson Price, director of the African American Cultural Center. The crowd, frozen in place, remained by the water for another 10 minutes before dousing their candles and slowly walking back to the center of campus.
Throughout the speeches, a single star broke through clouds and hung above the University.
“It’s time to move on and be strong,” said Kijuan Dabney, a teammate of Howard’s. “It’s time to move on and be strong. Just be happy and move on. Don’t be looking at us players sad. Just be strong.”
Dabney then gave football coach Randy Edsall a letterman jacket, with a photo of Edsall hugging Howard affixed to the back. The jacket was signed by players and others.
Edsall donned the jacket, promising he’d be seen wearing it on campus, and called for the crowd to hug somebody near them.
UConn President Michael Hogan spoke first.
“I congratulated Jasper and his teammates in the locker room late Saturday afternoon on what may have been his proudest day,” Hogan said. “A few short hours later, long before sunrise, I learned that he was gone. Words fail me.”
Hogan instead turned to poets Gerard Manley Hopkins, W.H. Auden, and William Wordsworth. He read W.H. Auden’s untitled poem from The Ascent of F6:
Top all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.
The stars are not wanted now: put out every one;
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun;
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood;
For nothing now can ever come to any good.
“But we must move on from this moment of despair and disbelief,” Hogan said. “Jasper would want us to. He understood the precious value of the present when he said ‘play every play like it’s the last play you’ll ever play.’”
Hogan also issued a statement to the community after the vigil.
Howard died early Sunday after being stabbed during a fight outside the Student Union following a dance. University and state police continue to investigate the slaying.
UConn police have requested any photos or video that may have been taken at the Student Union Saturday night as well as for anyone with any additional information to come forward and contact police. Police can be reached at (860) 486-4800 or on the Tip Line at (860) 486-4444. The task force investigating the stabbing can also be reached at CrimeAlerts@uconn.edu.
In the most recent update to the campus community, UConn Police Chief Robert Hudd wrote that “significant progress” has been made in the case.
Wednesday night, students hugged each other and wiped away tears as they listened to comments by Hogan, Edsall, Undergraduate Student Government president Tom Haggerty, members of the football team, and others.
The campus community has been in mourning since the stabbing occurred, observing a day of silence Tuesday and planning days of somber remembrance Thursday and Friday. Memorials also are expected in Storrs before Saturday’s football game with West Virginia University, and students and fans in Morgantown will observe a moment of silence before the game. UConn players will wear the initials JH on their helmets for the remainder of the season. West Virginia players will wear Howard’s number 6 on the rear of their helmets during the game.
Edsall and his players praised and thanked the community for its support during “a very rough couple of days for those of us that had a relationship [with Howard]. We’ve drawn our strength from everybody in the community and within our team.”
Referring to Howard’s mother, step-father, and uncle, Edsall said he had “never seen a group of people so strong,” and said their appearance and comments to the team in the locker room brought around a group of sobbing young men. For the first time since they learned of the slaying at 6 a.m. Sunday morning, he said, he could see his players brighten up slightly, even smile. And in return, he said, the support the three family members saw from the UConn community allowed them to go home “with peace of mind.”
Haggerty, in his talk, spoke for the community.
“We may not have personally known Jasper Howard but we recognize that we have lost a member of the UConn family and that does not sit well in our stomach,” he said. “We will not sit idly by. Rather we will take charge, and we will step up to comfort our fellow Huskies. We will lend a helping hand and an open heart to those who are in need. We will do all we can to make sure justice is served and Jasper’s memory is maintained. The spirit of UConn is strong and it does not falter. It does not bend or break. It is steadfast, resilient and it carries this university through its darkest moments.”
The funeral for Howard, a Miami native, will take place Monday morning in his home state of Florida. The entire UConn football team will attend the services.