Matthew died after physical torture at a local fraternity at Chico State in California.
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Matt Update 2015
Ten years ago today Matt sent, what would turn out to be, his last email to me. Tomorrow I will have sent my last back…that would unknowingly be our last correspondence in this life.
Fortunately for me, my very last words to him were words of praise and adoration of how proud I was of him and how much I loved him. In my worst days I cherished that he knew how much I loved and adored him.
Each year I struggle to write my annual update, January is a very hard time for me as all the memories of every minute of Matt’s last days come rushing back at will. I find myself taking a moment to push back the pain and wipe away a fallen tear I could not control. Even though the pain is always in my heart I get stronger with every passing year. And what a year this has been…
For the last ten years I have been formulating in my head where I hoped all our hard work would take us. Help people recognize hazing, as opposed to bullying. Change the mindset of our young people to find unacceptable, what for centuries they have been conditioned to believe was a right of passage. But how do we realize our dream? Documentaries, talk shows, new shows, radio shows, magazine articles, letters were all good but we needed more. A bigger voice, a greater reach, something IMPACTFUL!
Then in November 2012 I received a call from an amazing lady by the name of Hilary Roberts Grant. Hilary told me that Indigo Films had hired her to collect information about Matt’s story for an upcoming new show, the then “Bio Channel now know as A&E Network”, was planning to air stories about the dangers in college. They were looking for true stories and she was researching it for them. But by the end of January it was dropped, only to be picked up again a few months later, completed and aired August 2014. The reaction was overwhelming. I knew this was a game changer. The only problem now was how to I convince Indigo Films and A&E Network to give me the license to use it?
Two months of emails, texts and phone calls, and emails, texts and phones calls, it seemed like a lifetime. But it was worth it. So courtesy of A&E Network we were able to put the movie/documentary on Matt’s website (thank you Frankie) and can take it into high schools and colleges. Woo Hoo! This was a victory!!!
The show ignited our efforts and has allowed us to move forward with what we had always dreamed to accomplish in Matt’s memory and that is to expand our efforts enabling us to reach more people and make a BIGGER difference in his memory. And thus…the AHA! Movement was born this year.
The AHA! Movement is a non-profit organization created in Matt’s Memory, our purpose is to save the lives of our young people by educating them on the dangers of hazing, not to be confused with bullying.
So talks began of programs we can implement in the HS and colleges around the film, and expanding to how we can create age appropriate programs for elementary and Jr. HS students, and much more. Most of you may or may not be aware that hazing starts in elementary schools. But with the recent outbursts of torturous HS hazings taking place in the last 6 months we are eager to get into the HS as soon as possible.
Our first AHA! event will be in Chico on February 2nd the 10th Anniversary of when Matt was killed. A group of us will be going up on Sunday, Feb 1stto distribute flyers inviting students and others to the event the following night, going door to door to fraternities and sororities as well as downtown establishments. Sunday night at 10:30pm, the time when Matt walked into the frat house for the last time, we are going to leave flowers and 10 candles in front of the house where he was last ALIVE.
On Monday the 2nd, we will have a table in the BMU Atrium Area at Chico State where we will share Matt’s story, talk about hazing, handout literature and invite to the main event that evening. The “EVENT” At 5pm we will be showing Matt’s movie at the BMU, followed by a walking vigil that will begin at the steps of the University at Chestnut. We will walk down Chestnut to W 4th Street, taking us by the old fraternity house where Matt was killed (now the Jewish Community Center). We will continue down W 4th Street to downtown City Plaza where we will gather to remember Matt. Anyone that can make it is more than welcome and encouraged to join us.
Since this trip is not feasible for a lot of you if you wouldn’t mind lighting a candle in Matt’s memory Monday night, posting it on Facebook and tagging me at www.facebook.com/debbiesmithmm and adding #AHA!Movement that wound be awesome! And if you took it a step further and posted it onwww.facebook.com/ahamovement (and LIKE our page too please), it would be greatly appreciated.
We are extremely excited at the difference we know we are going to make and so appreciate all of you for always caring enough to keep up with what it going on in our efforts to bring awareness to the dangers of hazing.
Our foundation is in its early “baby” stages we are going to need funding to help us with our journey. If you are someone that makes donations to worthy causes we ask that you think about donating to the AHA!Movement. No donation is to small or too big, lol. If you are part of a corporation that issues grants we would love to be able to apply. If you can help us in anyway with fundraising we are open. We are currently working our branding and our website, and getting our office officially up and running. In the meantime if you would like to make a donation you can go to Matt’s site,www.wemissyoumatt.com and use the paypal set up there.
If you would like to contact me for any reason, please feel free to reply to this email, or you can call or text me at 209-470-7116.
Please remember life is short and memories are precious. Time goes by too fast; in the blink of an eye…don’t miss out. MAKE MEMORIES!!! And when you are feeling down, remember the good things in your life and be thankful you have them life is a blessing.
“Hug your children and tell them you love them EVERYDAY!”
Love and Smiles,
Remembering Matt and thinking of his mother, father, sibling and friends who miss him every day. Rest in Peace, Moderator Hank Nuwer
February 2, 2014
It’s hard to believe that nine years ago today we got that horrible call and raced to Chico to be with Matt only to find out halfway there that we were too late…..
February 2, 2005, a day that every memory is pierced within me. I do my best not to go back there because it is the worst day of my life and the pain is still so great it shreds my heart. But how can it not, today is the day my son was killed!
For the first few years I quite honestly did not know if I was going to make it. Every day was a struggle, it even hurt to breath without Matt. The thought of a life without him was unimaginable. The first year I could not wrap my brain around the fact that he was gone. Everyday on my way home from work I would expect to see his car in front of the house and Matt shooting hoops in the intersection. But he was not there…..all I could do was cry, the pain was too great and there was nothing I could do to make it better. Matt was gone and he was not coming back!
But here we are nine years later and by the grace of God, and the strength and love of our family and friends new and old, I am here today strong and happy with an amazing future in front of me, we all are.
I think of Matt everyday and wonder about everything that might have been and strive to make a difference in the memory of the wonderful, kind and gentle soul that he was and who he would be today.
We are not alone in our pain, trying to rebuild our lives without our children. Sadly, there are too many of us that have lost a child to hazing. A senseless, horrific and degrading death, no one ever should experience! We are all on a mission to bring awareness to hazing.
It seems that hazing is spiraling out of control and that breaks my heart. It means that we need to work harder to help people understand that first it exists, and second just how serious it is. We need to TALK about it, educate others!
As most of you know Indigo Films has been shooting Matt’s Story, it is set to come out on the Bio Channel, this spring (as far as I know). It was a difficult yet incredibly rewarding experience as I was able to attend most of the interviews, including my own, lol.
Hearing Matt’s friends and family remember him was so special. Matt was so FUNNY, quick-witted, sweet, kind and generous, you couldn’t help but smile when he entered a room. Their memories were wonderful! Then to hear their pain of losing him, going on without him brought me to tears every time. The hardest for me was Travis’ interview I had never heard his recollection of ‘that’ morning, it tore me up inside as he weeped for his brother, he loved him so much. I wanted so badly to hold him but couldn’t because they were filming.
In Oroville and Chico I was reunited with two of my favorite people, DA Mike Ramsey, and Sgt. Greg Keeney. They both were kind enough to do interviews for Matt’s Story and they were great, of course. I got a chance to catch up a little bit with both of them and that was nice.
But the highlight of the trip was totally unexpected. The film crew wanted to get some footage of the hospital where Matt died. I had not been back there since THAT day. I didn’t even remember where it was but I had a vivid memory of what it looked like, where we parked by it, running in, what and who we saw and where everything was. This was not that hospital, I was more than a little confused….
We met someone outside the hospital that remembered Matt’s story and she took me on a tour of the hospital. It turned out where we had just parked was a whole new building of the hospital and where Matt was, was under construction and the entrance we had gone in was no longer there. I cried as we roamed the halls, all the memories of that morning came rushing back.
Then this woman asked me if there was any one i would like to see? I said yes, there was a social working that worked here then, her name was Stephanie is she still here? She said yes let me get her for you.
Stephanie had talked to me on the phone all morning that morning as I struggled with being so far from Matt, waiting for Greg, then racing desperately to get to him. She was calming and kind, calling every few minutes or so to make sure I was okay and to see where we were on the road. She is the one I begged halfway there to tell me the truth about Matt. Were we going to make it in time? I already knew in my heart what the answer was I just needed her, SOMEONE to confirm it. And she did, as hard as it was I needed to hear it.
When we pulled up she met us at the entrance and took us in…….a lot of stuff happened that I won’t go into but suffice to say she was a Godsend to me and I am forever grateful.
Stephanie came out and when I looked into her eyes I saw that warm and generous person that helped me get through the worst morning of my life. We got to visit for about 45 minutes, it was wonderful! She walked me to my car we hugged and said our goodbyes. It was so wonderful to get to see her after all these years and be able to tell her how much she means to me and always will.
I have come a long way since that day. I have learned a lot, I have grown a lot and I have met a lot of incredible people along the way. Going on without Matt has BY FAR been the hardest thing I have ever had to do. I am forever grateful that God blessed me with Matt and gave 21 years of wonderful memories that I cherish everyday.
If there is one thing I hope you take away from this it’s that life is short and memories are precious. Our children grow up too fast, in a blink of an eye…don’t miss out. MAKE MEMORIES!!!
Matt would have turned 30 years old this past November….
Gob bless you all, if you think of it light a candle for Matt today and maybe even say a little prayer. :D
“Hug your children and tell them you love them everyday.”