Hundreds of students, staff members, parents and city officials gathered last night at East Austin College Prep to celebrate the life of 17-year-old Draylen Mason, the second and youngest victim in a string of bombings in Austin earlier this month.
Ashley Sosa, an East Austin College Prep student who helped organize the vigil, said students and staff wanted the event to be a part of a healing process. Mason was killed on March 12 when a package exploded at his home on Oldfort Hill Drive, seriously injuring his mother, as well.
"It really broke my heart, especially the way he passed away," Sosa said. "It's not something anybody should go through, you know?"
But, Sosa said, the bond between students and staff at East Austin College Prep has been “the best therapy we could ever have” in the wake of Mason’s death.
Students shared videos and recited a poem he wrote about his grandmother at the vigil. They also read from Mason’s college application essay. He’d been accepted into several competitive programs, including the Butler School of Music at UT Austin and the Oberlin Conservatory of Music in Ohio.
Some of Mason’s friends even performed a dance tribute to a mix of his favorite songs while wearing pants they’d bought in Thailand during a school trip years before. Jazmin Lopez, a close friend of Mason, says the dance was both a tribute and a reference to when Mason ripped his pants on the trip - more than once.
“I don’t know how or what he was doing, but they would always be ripped, so he’d always go back and buy a new pair because they were so cheap,” Lopez said. “I’m pretty sure toward the end of the trip he had already bought like 20 pants or something.”
Students and teachers told plenty of similar stories like this last night – including one in which Mason proposed to a few of his classmates with his mother’s rings that she'd thought she lost.
But Mason wasn’t just known as a jokester or hopeless romantic to his classmates and teachers.
Jacqueline Vidal, who teaches social studies at East Austin College Prep, says she met Mason when he was in seventh grade. She says he was one of the reasons she continued teaching.
“[He was] one of the very few students my first semester here that asked questions about me,” Vidal said. “[He] wanted to get to know me and I developed a very special relationship with him.”
Vidal said she admired the strength shown by the community – namely, the students – in the weeks after Mason’s death.
“I know I’m supposed to be strong and I know other teachers can vouch for this, but it’s the kids that are being strong,” Vidal said.
During the vigil, it was also announced that Southwest Key, an education and equity-minded nonprofit that runs East Austin College Prep, will induct Mason into their "Walk of Heroes" on June 9.
Mason’s funeral will be held at 11 a.m. on Saturday at the Greater Mount Zion Baptist Church.