A year ago today, a University of Alabama student huddled in a house in Tuscaloosa, whispering to the girl in his arms that everything would be okay. Then the wind came, and snatched her out of his arms, and hurled them both into the unfathomable. Today he raises money for her memorial scholarship.
The story of Carson Tinker and Ashley Harrison is a sad and powerful one, written beautifully by my friend Lars Anderson in Sports Illustrated. If you did not see it, please take time to read this story, and remember Ashley and the ones we lost, for today is a day to honor them.
Carson Tinker went on to win a BCS National Championship on the eve of Ashley's birthday. When the celebration wound down in New Orleans after midnight, he got in his car and drove home to Tuscaloosa. Some time in the small hours, he texted Ashley's mother a photograph of the cross he had placed in the field where she died, decorated with shakers and other souvenirs from the game. That was his birthday gift to Ashley.
Carson doesn't like to talk about the day the girl he loved was stolen by the wind. But he does give motivational talks to groups, and donates every penny he earns from it to her scholarship. He helps sell bracelets her family made in her honor, pink bands with a favorite saying of hers, written in her handwriting, taken from a note she wrote to her father:
I Love you as big as the sky.
"Ashley loved to help others," says her mother, Darlene Harrison, who came with Ashley's father from Texas to hold a memorial service later today at the place where she was found. At graduation, when her daughter was honored posthumously with a college degree, a graduate passing her on the way to the stage stopped to thank her. Ashley had tutored him. "He told me, 'If it wasn't for Ashley, I would not be graduating.'"
Go visit her Facebook Memorial page to see how much she is missed. The words of grief and photos posted there, the outpouring of support from her friends and fellow students, are what get Darlene through the loss of her only child. "There's a hole in my heart that won't ever go away," Darlene told me over the phone. "But it is lined with those kids, with the people who loved her. And they keep that hole from getting bigger."
If you would like to donate to her scholarship, here's the address:
Ashley Harrison Memorial Scholarship PO Box 180098 Dallas, TX 75218