GRAD Early College senior “keeps going” after incredible loss

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Rowan County Early College suffered a huge loss early this school year when senior Jennifer Merriman was shot and killed during a domestic dispute at her sister’s home in Richland.

The loss was hard for everyone, but especially for Garret Hatley, Merriman’s boyfriend.

Hatley and Merriman met in second grade. The two started as acquaintances, became friends in middle school and eventually began dating their sophomore year of high school.

Hatley said he was initially shy when he came to the early college.

“She brought me out of my shell,” he said, adding that she encouraged him to join the Student Government Association.

“As time went on, I got more and more outgoing,” he said.

“She was perfect. She always put others above herself. She just wanted to make everyone happy,” Hatley added.

On Sept. 6, the couple was spending time at Merriman’s sister’s home after school.

“I was getting ready to leave before everything happened,” Hatley said.

The two hugged, and as they were walking out toward, they heard something.

It “sounded like someone dropping a whole tray of glasses,” he said.

“We ducked to the ground,” Hatley said. “I heard someone stomping around and heard shooting.”

Merriman was shot and died later that night.

“I saw it happen, Hatley said.

When he found out she passed away, he was overcome by grief.

“I just broke down right there,” he said. “I basically just cried my eyes out.”

Hatley said he “moped around for a while.”

Going back to school was difficult for Hatley.

When he went to school the following Monday, he had to “hold the tears back the whole day,” he said.

That first semester was especially difficult, he said, adding that Merriman was in all his major classes.

“I still passed everything, but it was tough.

As time goes by, he’s worked to get more involved in school and with friends to overcome his grief.

“I try to be more like her,” Hatley said, adding that he’s learned “you can still keep going” after incredible loss.