Draylen Mason was known as an accomplished musician who was heading to college, but he could also make you laugh before he even opened his mouth.
“You just expect to laugh with him. That boy was hilarious,” said Sharrel Prince, who has known him since pre-K. “What made Draylen funny is that he says the things everyone else is scared to say.”
The 17-year-old East Austin College Prep student was killed March 12 by a package bomb left outside his house in East Austin. His mother was also injured in the bombing.
According to high school friends, Anthony Stephan House was quiet, humble and self-assured, even at a young age. House, who was killed March 2, was a father and a graduate of Texas State University.
The victims’ lives were claimed as part of a dramatic, weeks-long series of bombings in Austin that seemed to reach an end early Wednesday when a suspect took his own life as police closed in on him.
Draylen Mason: ‘This kid is incredible’
When Draylen was first learning to play the double bass, teachers noticed his passion and talent right away. It was the first thing Patrick Slevin heard about Draylen, when he attended a music summer camp in 2012.
“[Another teacher] came to me … saying, ‘Wow, this kid is incredible,'” said Slevin, the CEO of Austin Soundwaves, a music education program. “He had just started bass or maybe he had been playing a little bit already. [The other teacher said,] ‘He can play everything by ear; he’s just so hungry to learn.'”
Once Draylen was in the Soundwaves program, he almost immediately began working with Dana Wygmans.
“He was just such a wonderful musician,” said Wygmans, who taught him for five years. “I think that he did have a lot of natural talent, but I don’t want to underplay or understate how hard he worked and how passionate he was about it.”
His passion, talent and hard work was known to people outside Austin, too. Over the years, Draylen attended summer camps and workshops around the country.
Slevin said he has received texts and emails all week from people remembering Draylen, even if they met him for just a few minutes.
“I just don’t think that’s the norm, for every person to have had such an impact on all these people,” Slevin said. “Colleagues that maybe visited five years ago for a day have these vivid memories of a conversation or a funny thing Draylen said. Also, just how they knew he was really good.”
‘The true definition of a friend’
Draylen’s friends and teachers all agreed he was just really kind. Wygmans remembers a time when she was teaching three bass players at once, all with different levels of experience.
“Just watching him be very encouraging of the other two and never really feeling like in any way was he putting them down or anything like that,” she said. “He wanted them to feel successful, and he wanted it to feel positive for them.”
Wygmans also said he made everyone feel loved. One year on her birthday, she came into her office and found a Tupperware of spaghetti on her desk; Draylen had made her a meal so they could have lunch together to celebrate. Those little acts made him special to her. He was such an integral part of the Austin Soundwaves community, she said.
“He just always radiated positivity,” she said. “He was such a leader and people listened to him.”
Those are some of the qualities Prince admired about Draylen.
“I think it’s important for people to remember Draylen as the true definition of a friend,” said Prince, who had been close friends with him for most of their lives. “There for you, like really there for you. Maybe not sometimes physically, but he’s there to listen to you, there to see you cry, there when you need advice, there when you just need a laugh.”
She says he was often her voice of reason: He talked her through frustrations with friends, her parents and classmates.
“He was my wisdom and my comfort,” Prince said. “He was my comfort person. He always made me feel like everything would be OK.”
Prince says that makes it especially hard now that she’s grieving. She says she’s never gone through a difficult time in her life without his support.
Both she and Draylen were seniors and starting to think about their lives after high school. She said one of the last times they hung out was taking a walk around their neighborhood, something they did a lot.
“We were just asking each other like, ‘Oh, where do you see yourself in 10 years? What kind of house do you want?'” She said. “That’s what he asked me, what kind of house did I want and I asked him the same.”
Lately, Draylen had been thinking about his more immediate future. He had been auditioning for music programs at universities, and had been accepted at the University of Texas and the University of North Texas.
He explained the importance of music education in a promotional video for Austin Soundwaves.
“From my personal experience, it has benefited me to become a better person,” he says in the video. “To develop discipline, to develop social skills, to develop mental skills in a sense.”
While many mourn the loss of Draylen as a musician, Prince says the more impactful loss is his loving nature.
“He was the true definition of love,” she said. “Because even though he’s not here, he’s able to bring so many people together. I’ve been with my friends literally all week. I’ve gotten so much support from teachers and friends, and it’s like he’s still impacting people.”
Anthony Stephan House: Focused on the positive
“It was always a no-small-talk-type conversation with him,” high school friend Kevin Cotton said about Anthony Stephan House. “I liked that about him.”
Cotton, who now lives in Fort Worth, ran track with House and said the 39-year-old was a talented athlete. He was also a quiet guy who was well-liked.
“I’ve never seen him out there acting extroverted,” Cotton said. “He was still cool, though. Everybody knew him.”
House, who went by Stephan, attended Pflugerville High School in the ’90s, and he received a degree in finance from Texas State University in 2008. He worked as a project manager for Texas Quarries until February 2017, according to the company. Friends said he had an interest in real estate.
According to news reports, House was married and had an 8-year-old daughter.
KUT was not able to reach House’s family, although his brother said Monday he would be speaking on behalf of the family soon. House’s stepfather, Freddie Dixon, told The Washington Post last week that he thought the first two bombings, which killed and injured members of black families, were racially motivated.
“My diagnosis: Number one, I think it’s a hate crime. Number two, somebody’s got some kind of vendetta here,” the retired pastor and civil rights advocate told The Post.
“It’s not just coincidental,” Dixon said. “Somebody’s done their homework on both of us, and they knew what they were doing.”
Held in ‘high regard’
Friends said House’s silence was never because he was afraid to speak up or easily intimidated.
“You may not think he’s paying attention, but I do think he’s assertive and kind of reading the situation … taking it all in,” said Jeff Lewis, another high school friend who now lives in Houston. He and House were on a track relay team with two other boys in high school, and the group won the district title.
House’s older brother, Corey, was murdered in 1994. Lewis said House soldiered the loss with a maturity he had difficulty understanding as a teenager.
“Being a freshman in high school, we’re still becoming ourselves at that point,” Lewis said. “For something so tragic to take place, I found him to be very resilient and not so much bitter, but focusing on the positive and moving forward. That’s not something I could have done at that age. … I really held him in high regard and respected him for how he handled that.”
Greg Padgitt, who also attended Pflugerville High, said he had recently reached out to House to help him with a mentoring program this summer aimed at connecting young children with successful black businessmen in the area.
“We were going to start going into the schools and just mentoring boys and girls who really don’t have a male figure in their life,” he said.