Slain Former Intern Remembered at American University
On a small altar at the American University chapel sat red, white and blue flowers, a New York Yankees cap, and a picture of a beaming young man standing in front of the White House.
More than 100 students, faculty and members of the community gathered at the Kay Spiritual Life Center on the northwest D.C. campus to remember the young man in the picture: Kevin Sutherland.
Sutherland, a 2013 AU graduate, was brutally stabbed to death on July 4th. On Sunday, he was remembered as a kind, loyal, talented and passionate young man.
“The magnitude and shock of Kevin’s death staggers our minds and breaks our hearts,” Rev. Joseph T. Eldridge, the university chaplain, told the group gathered in the circular chapel. In addition to members of the AU community, some Capitol Hill staffers were also in attendance to pay respect to the former congressional intern.
Sutherland interned for his hometown congressman, Rep. Jim Himes, D-Conn., in the fall of 2012. The 24 year-old, described as a talented graphic designer and photographer, was working as a digital strategist for New Blue Interactive when he was killed.
American University President Neil Kerwin said Sutherland was able to merge his two passions: politics and technology. Countless times throughout the ceremony, mourners referred to Sutherland’s love of D.C., which he adopted as his second home.
Sutherland was stabbed to death on a Red Line train at the NoMa-Gallaudet U Metro stop while on his way to meet friends on July 4th. His death is part of a District summer marred by violent crime. Over the weekend, the number of homicides reached 105, the same number of homicides in all of 2014.
American University lost another alumnus in August. Matt Shlonsky, 23, also a former congressional intern, was gunned down near the Shaw Metro stop, though he reportedly was not the intended target.
As the young men’s friends and families are grappling with their shocking deaths, those left behind are also raising questions about what is causing the spike in violent crime in D.C., and what is being done about it.
“Much in the same way that we all felt this anxiety after 9/11 and felt the threat of terror, now we feel the threat of crime,” said Anita McBride, Sutherland’s cousin who acted as the family’s spokesperson following the ceremony. “And we really do have to put pressure on the people that are in a position to do something about it, to find out what that is and do what that is.”
“I’m not sure what the solution is,” she later added, “but obviously we’re putting people out on the street, perhaps way too soon, that shouldn’t be there.”
Though questions about the crime spike lingered over references to Sutherland’s love of the District, his friends and family sought to emphasize Sutherland’s life and passion for improving the world around him.
“The most important thing is to always reflect the positivity of Kevin and Matt, just so people understand in the city that they were both people who meant a lot to everyone,” Tya Scott, a 2014 AU graduate, told reporters after the ceremony. Scott was one of Sutherland’s roommates and lived on the same floor as Shlonsky during her freshman year.
“It’s not just something you read in the paper,” Scott said. “They’re humans and they’re humans that touched all of our lives very deeply.”
Scott and three more of Sutherland’s friends paid tribute to the young man Sunday afternoon, mixing tears with occasional laughs at fond memories. Sutherland’s father, Douglas, also spoke about his son who was taken too soon.
Douglas Sutherland described his son as someone who had a passion for helping others and making people laugh. He was not ambitious or politically driven, Douglas noted, but he truly wanted to make a difference.
At the end of his address, Douglas read from Sutherland’s blog post on the first anniversary of the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., which was close to Sutherland’s hometown.
In his post, Sutherland harkened back to the Founding Fathers’ quest to create a “more perfect union.” “It is likely that we will never achieve absolute perfection,” Sutherland wrote, “but I believe that the heart of American exceptionalism is that we never stop trying.”
Douglas urged those present to heed his son’s words, telling them, “Let us continue to strive, as he did, to create that more perfect union.”
Two scholarships have been set up in Kevin’s honor. One for American University students, and another to provide support for students who participate in unpaid internships on Capitol Hill.
Correction 10:27 a.m. A previous version of this article misspelled the surname of the American University president.
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