Loss of Elijah DeWitt leaves more than void for childhood friends in Jefferson

Credit: Photo courtesy of Bowman Horn

Credit: Photo courtesy of Bowman Horn

JEFFERSON – When a young Bowman Horn moved to a cul-de-sac here in 2011, the first friend he made was Max Aldridge. Living 100 yards from each other helped to forge the ultimate bond between the two. It was a bond they added to when Elijah DeWitt moved next door to Aldridge when the three were in middle school.

The three played peewee football together. Horn remembers DeWitt breaking his hand in one of those early games when they were 9 years old.

“He didn’t say anything and just kept playing the whole game,” Horn said. “And he was the quarterback.”

The bond on and off the football field continued.

This season, Aldridge and DeWitt drove together to 5:30 a.m. football practices at Jefferson High School, where all three played. Horn was a safety, Aldridge a quarterback and DeWitt a wide receiver and cornerback.

Suddenly, too suddenly, DeWitt was gone. The 18-year-old was shot and killed in October in the Sugarloaf Mills Mall parking lot near a Dave & Buster’s.

“Being in the car without him in the mornings on the way to school, that’s when I really start to miss him,” Aldridge said.

While the death of DeWitt left a community in shock, it had more of an impact on Horn and Aldridge.

“They’ve done an unbelievable job of trying to honor him,” Jefferson coach Travis Noland said. “With how they’ve played and doing things the way they feel he would want them and expect them to do.”

Jefferson won its first game after DeWitt’s death, a 27-0 victory over Flowery Branch on Oct. 15. Aldridge threw three touchdown passes, and Horn recorded six tackles.

Football was an important element of their friendship, but it wasn’t everything. All the small moments added up. Walking in the woods when they were youngsters. Playing video games. Spending free moments joking around. Taking those early-morning car rides to school and practice.

Since DeWitt’s death, Horn and Aldridge have reminded each other what’s important.

“Stuff that we used to take for granted, like time together, now we really cherish it, just being together,” Horn said.

They remind each other of funny stories involving DeWitt.

“We’re just checking up on each other a whole lot more now,” Aldridge said. “We’re dudes, so we’re not really that open about our emotions. But it’s sort of made us open up to each other.”

Credit: Photo courtesy of Bowman Horn

Credit: Photo courtesy of Bowman Horn

Horn is preparing for his final baseball season at Jefferson. He hopes to change his jersey to No. 34, the number DeWitt grew up wearing before changing to No. 2 in high school. Horn finished the football season, which ended in an unexpected first-round Class 5A playoff loss to Cass, 27-17, earlier this month, wearing DeWitt’s No. 34 jersey.

A hat DeWitt used to wear was left at Aldridge’s house. Aldridge customized it with messages such as “LLED” (Long Live Elijah DeWitt), “fly high my brother,” angel wings and other symbols. He wore it in his homecoming photos.

Aldridge now wears flashier clothes and grew his hair long for football season, just as DeWitt had.

“He was just an exotic person,” Aldridge said. “The first day of school he (DeWitt) wore an all-pink jumpsuit.”

Jefferson defensive coordinator Tom Parker knew the friendship among the three was evident long before he coached them.

“They’ve been friends ever since Bowman moved here,” Parker said. “They’re able to hangout, be best friends, go off and do things with other friends but still remain close.”

Outsiders saw the three boys as family. They thought of themselves as brothers. They held each other accountable and always looked out for each other.

“We were always like the trio,” Aldridge said. “We were always three best friends.”

Caroline Parlantieri is a student in the Sports Media Certificate program at the University of Georgia’s Carmical Sports Media Institute.