SLAIN TEACHER IN­SPIRES FAM­ILY

The fam­ily of Pa­trick Brax­ton-An­drew hopes peo­ple will con­tinue to be in­spired by his ad­ven­tur­ous spirit.

The Charlotte Observer (Sunday) - - Front Page - BY THÉODEN JANES [email protected]­lot­teob­server.com

As they waited for news about Pa­trick Brax­tonAn­drew, who’d been miss­ing since Oct. 28 while trav­el­ing solo in a gor­geous but re­mote part of north­ern Mex­ico, his younger brother Kerry and his sis­ter-in-law Kath­leen grap­pled with a ques­tion. Will we ever want to

travel again? they won­dered aloud.

And they kept com­ing back to the same an­swer: Yes, they thought. How could we not?

Even af­ter Mex­i­can of­fi­cials re­ported Thurs­day that Brax­ton-An­drew had been killed by a drug traf­ficker, their feel­ing didn’t change.

“I think a part of hon­or­ing and re­mem­ber­ing Pa­trick is not let­ting that hap­pen — not be­ing afraid to ex­plore new places, to see new cul­tures,” Kath­leen Brax­ton-An­drew told the Ob­server on Fri­day af­ter­noon from Mex­ico City. “Yes, this is a hor­ri­ble thing, but Pa­trick had

so many ex­pe­ri­ences in Latin Amer­ica, and — I mean, thou­sands — and that doesn’t get re­placed by this. It’s still a spe­cial place to him, and I think it will still be a spe­cial place to us.”

The va­ca­tion­ing 34year-old David­son school­teacher and tu­tor van­ished af­ter leav­ing a ho­tel he was stay­ing at in the tiny town of Urique, which is nestled at the bot­tom of the breath­tak­ing Cop­per Canyon in the Mex­i­can state of Chi­huahua.

Few clues emerged over the sub­se­quent 17 days, as the fam­ily con­verged on Mex­ico and au­thor­i­ties searched the sur­round­ing ar­eas. But on Wednes­day morn­ing, Brax­ton-An­drew’s fa­ther — Gary An­drew, well-known in David­son Col­lege cir­cles as the school’s long­time men’s cross coun­try and track and field coach (now re­tired) — said Chi­huahua gov­er­nor Javier Cor­ral in­formed him of Pa­trick’s death per­son­ally, in the state capi­tol in Chi­huahua City.

A post on Cor­ral’s official Face­book page Thurs­day night, trans­lated from Span­ish, said Brax­tonAn­drew died “at the hands of” José Noriel Por­tilo Gil, a noted drug traf­ficker in the Urique area. A man­hunt is un­der­way.

Even still, An­drew agreed that his son would not have wanted his death to dis­suade oth­ers from ad­ven­tur­ous travel.

“He wouldn’t want peo­ple not to come to Mex­ico, or go through the area that he had been in, be­cause of this,” An­drew said on Fri­day. “I mean, he’d want peo­ple to learn from this and just be more aware of their sur­round­ings, but ... no one can un­der­stand why this hap­pened. It just doesn’t hap­pen to Amer­i­can tourists. Or to tourists in general, I be­lieve. It’s a tragedy that shouldn’t have oc­curred, and we don’t know why it did.”

LOOK­ING BACK

Pa­trick Brax­ton-An­drew was as pre­pared as any to take a trip like this alone, his fam­ily said.

He was a nat­u­ral ex­tro­vert: Dur­ing fam­ily trips to Colorado as a boy, he’d wan­der the camp­ground, strik­ing up easy friend­ships with other kids.

And though he wasn’t ini­tially a nat­u­ral at Span­ish — he nearly failed out of the class dur­ing his se­nior year at North Meck­len­burg High School — Pa­trick got more cu­ri­ous about it dur­ing a fam­ily trip to Costa Rica while on a break from pur­su­ing a de­gree in English at David­son Col­lege.

Af­ter plot­ting a re­turn to Latin Amer­ica for years, in his mid-20s, he bought a one-way ticket to Mex­ico City and started back­pack­ing his way south to­ward Costa Rica. Brax­ton-An­drew wound up liv­ing with a fam­ily in Guatemala, and when he re­turned to North Carolina 13 months later, he was flu­ent in the lan­guage that had plagued him as a teen.

In 2011, he got a job work­ing with David­son Col­lege’s Peru-fo­cused study-abroad pro­gram, and made sev­eral trips to South Amer­ica as its as­sis­tant res­i­dent di­rec­tor. While oth­ers stuck close to Amer­i­cans, he often wan­dered off on his own, ea­ger to strike up con­ver­sa­tions with na­tive speak­ers. Even when he was trav­el­ing alone, he never felt like he was alone, his brother Kerry said.

Mean­while, he launched a tu­tor­ing busi­ness that cov­ered an ar­ray of aca­demic sub­jects as well as col­lege en­trance ex­ams, and picked up a part-time job teaching Span­ish (and later al­ge­bra) to mid­dleschool­ers at the pri­vate Wood­lawn School in Mooresville.

Brax­ton-An­drew was so well-liked by his stu­dents and so trusted by their par­ents, Kerry had said on Wednes­day, that they’d in­vite him over for fam­ily din­ners, that he ac­com­pa­nied kids to con­certs, and that he was often re­quested as a chap­er­one at school par­ties: “He’s very pas­sion­ate about tak­ing care of th­ese kid, and mak­ing sure that they’re set up for suc­cess.”

The fam­ily says they’ve been over­whelmed by peo­ple who knew Pa­trick and have reached out with sto­ries about pos­i­tive in­ter­ac­tions they had with him.

“The pas­sion that Pa­trick had for what he was do­ing — and the good things, and all of the mem­o­ries that peo­ple have that are so good ... ” Jean Brax­ton said on Fri­day while fight­ing through tears. “That far out­weighs the bad things that hap­pened.”

MOV­ING FOR­WARD

Kerry and Kath­leen Brax­ton-An­drew plan to head back to their home in Chicago this week­end, but Gary An­drew and Jean Brax­ton would like to re­main in Mex­ico City un­til their son’s body is found.

An­drew added that the fam­ily is ea­ger for their son’s killer to be ap­pre­hended, and lav­ished praise on the ef­forts of Chi­huahua gov­er­nor Cor­ral, who wrote in the Thurs­day Face­book post (trans­lated from Span­ish):

“Noth­ing will stop us un­til we have cap­tured him. It could take us a short time or a long time, but we will cap­ture him. ... The at­tack of in­no­cent peo­ple who have noth­ing to do with crim­i­nal or­ga­ni­za­tions or the dis­putes be­tween them should be made a pri­or­ity so that they never re­main un­pun­ished.”

It re­mains un­clear how Mex­i­can au­thor­i­ties could tell that Brax­ton-An­drew is dead with­out a body and with­out hav­ing made an ar­rest (at­tempts by the Ob­server to reach an official source in Chi­huahua were un­suc­cess­ful). But Gary An­drew is hope­ful that their son’s body will be re­cov­ered within the week.

At that point, they’d like to start think­ing about hav­ing a large gath­er­ing of friends and fam­ily back in North Carolina. But they balk at the words “me­mo­rial ser­vice.”

“I’m not sure what we’ll call it,” Gary An­drew said, “but a cel­e­bra­tion of life is the way that I en­vi­sion that we’ll do this.”

“With lots of color,” Kath­leen Brax­ton-An­drew added.

“Yeah, lots of color,” Gary said. “Lots of friends and peo­ple from widerang­ing places.”

Jean Brax­ton chimed in: “We are very, very proud of Pa­trick, and of the way he lived. He did what he wanted to do. He fol­lowed his path.”

“I think Pa­trick will con­tinue to in­spire us, and ev­ery­body that he’s met,” Gary said, his voice shak­ing. “We love Pa­trick. We’ll al­ways love Pa­trick. We’ll al­ways re­mem­ber him.”

And he prom­ises that they’ll re­turn to Mex­ico to carry on his spirit of ad­ven­ture.

His par­ents were ac­tu­ally just be­gin­ning an un­re­lated va­ca­tion in the Mex­i­can town of Tu­lum, al­most 2,000 miles away from Urique, when they learned of Pa­trick’s dis­ap­pear­ance. They cut that trip short and flew to Mex­ico City as soon as they could.

“We were plan­ning to visit var­i­ous ru­ins and other things in the Yu­catán,” Gary An­drew said. “And some­day we’re gonna come back and do those things that we didn’t have the op­por­tu­nity to do at that time. ... I mean, the Mex­i­can peo­ple are lov­ing, car­ing peo­ple, and the peo­ple that we’ve in­ter­acted with have just been amaz­ing and so help­ful and warm. So, yes: Some­day, we’re gonna come back.”

Courtesy of the Brax­ton-An­drew fam­ily

An un­dated photo from a Brax­ton-An­drew fam­ily va­ca­tion. From left to right, Gary An­drew, Pa­trick Brax­ton-An­drew, Jean Brax­ton and Kerry Brax­ton-An­drew. Pa­trick, an NC teacher who’d been miss­ing since Oct. 28 while trav­el­ing in Mex­ico, was re­port­edly killed by a drug traf­ficker.

Courtesy of the Brax­ton-An­drew fam­ily

A hand­writ­ten group trib­ute to Pa­trick Brax­ton-An­drew.

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