SLAIN TEACHER INSPIRES FAMILY
The family of Patrick Braxton-Andrew hopes people will continue to be inspired by his adventurous spirit.
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.
A handwritten group tribute to Patrick Braxton-Andrew.