Recent graduate is fifth student A.L. Brown has lost in 13 months

Published 12:00 am Sunday, June 16, 2013

KANNAPOLIS — A senior beach trip turned tragic Friday night when Braydon Harding, 19, died in a car accident in Myrtle Beach, one week after graduating from A.L. Brown High School.
Harding, a wrestler for the Wonders, is the fifth student A.L. Brown has lost in 13 months, principal Kevin Garay said.
The Sun News of Myrtle Beach reported Saturday that Horry County Chief Deputy Coroner Tamara Willard said Harding died late Friday night when a vehicle ran a red light at U.S. 17 Business and Farrow Parkway. Willard said Harding was a passenger in the back seat of the vehicle that was hit.
“This is supposed to be a time of accomplishment and students regrouping to get ready to go to college or whatever is next for them,” Garay said. “You don’t ever prepare yourself for something like this.”
Garay wasn’t only Harding’s principal. He was also the young man’s mentor for his senior project.
Harding was the only senior Garay agreed to supervise during the spring semester because the principal was so impressed with Harding’s topic — high school dropout prevention.
“He wanted to talk about the value of staying in school, and he talked about how he had peers who had dropped out or wanted to drop out,” Garay said. “He understood the value of an education. He did a really good job with his project.”
Tackling the high school dropout problem was a unique choice for a senior project, Garay said. Harding was excited to learn the school has a dropout prevention committee and he attended several meetings, presenting parts of his project to get feedback from members, Garay said.
Charming and polite, Harding had planned to attend Chowan College this fall and study engineering, Garay said.
“He was just a very well-mannered, very respectful young man,” the principal said. “He always had great rapport with teachers and administrators and really any adult that he interacted with.”
Harding often emailed Garay portions of his senior project for comments and corrections. The conscientious student, whose twin brother Brandon also graduated from A.L. Brown, never missed a deadline and sent writing passages and power point slides ahead of schedule.
Garay said he is waiting to hear from Harding’s family to determine how students will gather to remember their classmate.
No information was available about whether criminal charges will be filed in connection with the accident that killed Harding.
“R.I.P. Braydon Harding,” posted Wonder Nation — an A.L. Brown fan page — on Facebook Saturday afternoon. “Another precious life taken from us so early.”
A.L. Brown students and staff have mourned the loss of four other young adults since May 2012, when Daniel Cooper was shot and another student committed suicide.
Boy Scout Chris Overcash fell to his death at Stone Mountain in September 2012.
Derick John Thomason either jumped to his death or walked into traffic on Interstate 85 in March. His family told the Independent Tribune that the 14-year-old had endured years of bullying because he had Asperger’s syndrome.
Garay said the string of tragic deaths has been tough on A.L. Brown.
“We try to focus on what we can do for the family,” he said. “We have a close-knit staff, and we are close to our students. That strengthens us when we have challenges like this.”