The Herald Bulletin

February 15, 2013

‘Everybody loved him’

AU community mourns death of student athlete, artist

By Baylee Pulliam
The Herald Bulletin

ANDERSON, Ind. — Xavier Walton was a 6-foot, 2-inch defensive lineman with the soul of an artist.

At Anderson University, they called him ‘X.’

“Everybody loved him,” said professor Kathleen Dugan, who taught Walton in two classes this semester.

“It’s just so hard to believe he’s gone,” she said.  

Thursday night, Walton, a sophomore visual communication design major from Gary, collapsed while playing intramural basketball in AU’s Kardatzke Wellness Center. He was taken to Community Hospital Anderson, where he was pronounced dead at 10:03 p.m.

Less than an hour later, about 300 students had gathered in Reardon Auditorium.

“What’s incredible is the type of people who showed up,” said art professor Arlon Bayliss, who taught Walton’s 3-dimensional design class last year. “People from the art department, athletes, all these different people who had something to share.”

The students held hands, sang and took turns telling stories into a microphone.

Freshman art major Ellen Wuethrich spoke about a night last semester when she was working late in the art department. Walton walked her home.

“When we got there, I didn’t have my keys,” she said. “He stayed with me until I got them. He probably didn’t get home until like 5 a.m.”

As she spoke, Wuethrich spread white paint along a wall in the Jessie C. Wilson Gallery — a makeshift memorial where students can leave notes and drawings.

In one, the word “Xavier” was surrounded by clouds and enveloped with angels’ wings, painted by freshman Kaitlyn Phipps.

The memorial was part of an impromptu showcase of Walton’s sculpture, charcoal and mixed-media work from this semester.

“This is all we could find,” Dugan said. “The rest of it’s with his grandmother in Gary.”

In one work, a standing figure rests against the back of another figure’s chair. A mix of soft, yellow and blue paint strokes and aggressive charcoal lines, it’s almost metaphoric of Walton’s conflicting passions.

“He was a teddy bear,” Dugan said. “But he was apparently very aggressive” on the football field.

No. 95 Walton, was a 245-pound defensive lineman who lettered in football as a freshman. Friday night, football players and staff held a prayer vigil in his memory.

“Xavier was a strong Christian and a wonderful teammate,” said head coach Bobby Ladner, “The team and coaches loved him a great deal.”

The art department also held a vigil Friday night as a “private, family time to process in a safe place,” Bayliss said.

Late Friday, there was no clear cause of death, said Madison County Coroner Marian Dunnichay. An official ruling could take several weeks pending a microscopic tissue evaluation and standard toxicology report.

In the meantime, all of  the campus mourns his loss, Anderson University president Dr. James Edwards said.

“We are all deeply saddened that such a promising young man would pass from us,” he said. “But we celebrate all we have come to know about him and hold his family, classmates, roommates, teammates, and his many friends in our love and prayers.”

Find Baylee Pulliam on Facebook and @BayleeNPulliam on Twitter, or call 648-4250.