Pieces of David Shannon’s life are scattered among friends – T-shirts, bow ties, mementos from his dorm room. The keepsakes are part of his family’s hope to keep David’s memory alive.
Nine months after he fell to his death at a concrete plant in Carrboro, his parents and older brother still struggle with grief. This time last year, they were helping David move from Charlotte into college for the first time, at UNC-Chapel Hill.
This year, his father, Hugh Shannon, will talk with fraternity members and pledges at the university about the dangers of drinking and the need to keep track of friends who go out. The Shannon family hopes to prevent another tragedy.
Some parents may think David’s story will never happen to their children, said Aaron Bachenheimer, director of Greek life at UNC, who talked with parents about David at freshmen orientation.
“But the scenario of a young son that has great potential in life and unfortunately has a great tragedy befall him is a very common story,” Bachenheimer said.
Sports lover, ‘Best Future Husband’
David Shannon had that potential.
He shared a passion for sports with his father and older brother, Stephen. In eighth grade, David played on the Carmel Middle School football team and won an award for best teammate. That was Hugh’s proudest moment.
Wherever Stephen went, David followed – tagging along with his brother to play outside and wander in the woods near their house.
“Instead of David being Stephen’s little brother, Stephen became David’s older brother,” said their mother, Katy Shannon.
A message from a friend in a memorial photo album says, “Honestly try to find that one kid David was mean to – you won’t.”
While attending Myers Park High School, he was a football player, champion of DECA (once known as Delta Epsilon Chi) and Bible school teacher.
As a senior, he won the superlative “Best Future Husband.” He drove a white minivan dubbed the “Shan Van.”
“He was always kind-hearted and always cared about you whether he knew you a day or 10 years,” said Matthew McDonald, one of David’s childhood friends.
David, 18, a pledge at Chi Phi fraternity, was last seen at a pregame party in Chapel Hill. He was supposed to attend a sorority dance afterward. David never made it. Friends found him the next evening at the Ready Mixed Concrete Plant in Carrboro. Police said he had climbed machinery early the morning of Oct. 27, then fell 40 feet to his death.
The circumstances surrounding David’s death remain unclear. Police believe he was alone when he fell but haven’t said why he went up. They still have not received the autopsy results, said Lt. Chris Atack, spokesman for Carrboro police.
But the Shannons said they don’t need to know more details to have closure.
“We probably never will know exactly what led up to it, but it’s one of those things where I don’t think about it anymore,” Stephen said. “There’s no point in worrying about it because it’s not going to bring him back.”
Bow ties and brights
Carmel Baptist Church had never seen a larger funeral: More than 1,500 people attended, overflowing into the hallways.
The Shannons asked friends and family to dress in the bright colors that David was known for instead of traditional black. McDonald, his friend, wore one of David’s signature green and blue bow ties when he spoke at the funeral.
“One of the saddest days of my life was the day I found out he passed away,” said Forrest Garvin, David’s church youth group leader. “He was always happy, and he made other people happy just by being around him.”
As hard as it’s been for the Shannon family to lose David – just a few months shy of his birthday, which he shared with his mother – they have learned that some good must come from this tragedy.
Choose the light
Several scholarships have been created in David’s name to honor his giving spirit.
In June, the Shannons hosted an open house to thank family and friends for their support. It was similar to a pig pickin’ at a mission trip David took to Cuba with his father while in high school.
Stephen said that the outpouring of love has shown them that people are inherently good. Even those they have never met before have reached out.
“Get the help, accept the help, receive the love,” Katy said. “As we were told, over time it will soften. And it has.”
But there are still moments that catch the family off guard.
Katy recalls a trip to the YMCA where she saw someone wearing a UNC shirt similar to David’s. She wept.
For the longest time, Stephen would pull out his phone to text David about something funny. Then he would remember.
“Every day is a choice,” Hugh said. “You either choose to go to the light, or choose to go to the dark. Every day, we choose to go to the light.”