A voice interrupted my texting reverie as I sat on one of the little benches outside the peaceful chapel at the University of the Incarnate Word, waiting for my next class to begin.
“Ready for presentations today?” the male voice inquired.
I continued to gaze at my phone, not realizing that said voice was waiting for my response.
“A bit nervous,” I finally replied, feeling silly for taking so long to answer. I’d been having one of those days where I just didn’t feel like talking to anybody. The man behind the voice had other ideas.
When I looked up I recognized the mysterious voice man as the lanky blonde-haired guy that I sat behind in my Law and the Media class. Something about his demeanor immediately made me feel at ease, and I found myself getting up to walk to class with him. Although I hadn’t even said as much as “hello” to him before, he spoke to me as if we had been friends for years.
I was perplexed by how friendly he was to a complete stranger, albeit one that had sat behind him in class.
“Good job on your presentation,” he said afterward, a perpetual half-grin on his face. As I watched him walk down the Communication Arts hallway surrounded by friends, my mind made a snap judgement of his character:
“Now there’s a guy who has the whole world ahead of him.”
I promised myself that I would thank Cameron Redus for making me forget about having a bad day. I made the mistake of assuming I had all the time in the world.
On Dec. 6, 2013 I read the news that he was shot to death by a campus police officer.
UIW would find itself facing another controversy three years later. UIW President Dr. Lou Agnese was accused of unstable behavior that was detracting from his responsibilities at the university.
The UIW Board of Trustees voted to put Agnese on a 90-day medical leave due to his “sporadic uncharacteristic behavior and comments.”
Agnese allegedly made several racist remarks towards students attending a luncheon at school. The remarks he made included telling one young black student that he was, “Lucky you’re black so in a way you’re wearing Cardinal black.”
He also was accused of making an assortment of similar inflammatory comments towards Indian, Mormon, and Hispanic students. Agnese allegedly singled out a female student, making her stand up, noting how lucky she was to get into UIW in spite of poor test scores. Agnese vowed to fight against the forced medical leave.
The onslaught of news regarding Agnese made me flash back to the aftermath of Cameron’s death.
The post-finals euphoria had swiftly evaporated from my fellow classmates’ faces as more details of the incident came to light. Christopher Carter was named as the UIW Police officer responsible for the shooting.
Carter told the police that he had spotted Cameron “driving erratically” and trailed him back to his apartment complex. A fatal confrontation ensued. Carter claimed that Cameron had struck him with his own police baton, and that he had fired his weapon in self-defense.
Speculation and allegations aside, one irrefutable fact stood out.
Carter fired six bullets. Cameron was struck by five of them. The autopsy performed on Cameron did not determine “which wounds came first, but it concluded that the shot to the back was the ‘most immediately lethal.’”
He didn’t get the chance to tell his side of the story.
“Justice for Cameron” became the rallying cry that united friends, family, classmates, and even complete strangers as it became clear that the school was not on Cameron’s side. A group of determined students, led by then-Student Body President Jonathan Guajardo drew up a list of reforms for the campus police department to consider. Students were determined to create positive change in Cameron’s memory.
I felt a chill roll down my spine as a small group of us met two years later in the exact spot where Cameron’s life had ended. Only the glowing warmth from the candles we lit in his honor abated the heaviness in the air.
“I remember how he cycled all the way over to my apartment in the cold rain to return camera equipment he had borrowed from me.”
“I remember how a little 4-year-old could only invite two people to his birthday party. Cameron was proud to be invited and attended much to the 4-year-old’s delight.”
One by one people recounted their memories. We started walking from his apartment to the school, our candles illuminating a pathway through the dark night.
Our group stopped in front of a humble tree planted in Cameron’s honor near the back side of the school. Numerous green ribbons were still tied to its branches, clinging to the memory of a life that no longer is.
Around us the world continued to turn, life kept moving, but we stood completely still.
I couldn’t help but look around at our group as everyone bowed their heads. The people who had cared about Cameron had fought so hard in his name, seeking justice to keep the memory of his time on Earth alive. Too much time had passed, yet the unanswered question still lingered in the air.
Why are some taken before their time, their potential and reputation snuffed out in a hail of bullets?
Does a soul truly die if it is never forgotten?
Shortly after news broke about Agnese’s alleged racist remarks, the UIW Board of Trustees unanimously voted to remove him as school president. They later unanimously voted to honor Agnese by naming him president emeritus.
Meanwhile, Cameron’s parents are still fighting against UIW’s claim that the university is immune to the Redus’ wrongful death lawsuit. A court date for an appeal to the Texas Supreme Court to review the case is set for Dec. 7, one day after the three-year anniversary of his death.
While Agnese’s case was swiftly resolved in a matter of months, Cameron’s family is still fighting for justice. Cameron’s death itself was an unnecessary tragedy, but what made it even worse was the way his reputation was utterly besmirched.
We as human beings have a tendency to be consumed by tragic tales like Cameron’s – for a moment anyway. The spectacle of the aftermath plays out for a while, and then interests moves elsewhere. It’s especially difficult when such a story is drawn out for several years, with no neat conclusion, no happy ending. Easier to forget, to move on.
But Cameron’s family and friends have to live with the consequences of one man’s choice for the rest of their lives. They aren’t allowed the luxury of forgetting. They weren’t given closure.
Cameron never seemed to be the type of guy to take life for granted. His own words are a wise maxim that seemed to foreshadow his own legacy:
“‘Someday’ is a disease that will take your dreams to the grave with you. Act while you have the chance. Act now.”
The last time I saw Cameron Redus was during our class final. He came in a few minutes late, and took his seat in front of me and asked my classmate how her bug collection was doing. I never saw him again.
The classroom where we took that final is now named the Cameron Redus Mac Lab.