December 8, 2016

Former Webster student mourns loss of 16-year-old brother

Lauren Hoover stopped back in St. Louis for just a few days. She needed to pack her things and say some goodbyes—to her roommates and friends like Dani Roosman, Victoria Jewell, Jenny Howard and her track coach Dan Graber. Hoover, who was a junior biology major, left for Florida on Friday, Feb. 13 and doesn’t plan on coming back to St. Louis or to Webster University in the near future.

Hoover’s younger brother A.J. Hoover, 16, was shot in the head on Jan. 7 at a house near his residence outside of Phoenix. He died from his injuries a few hours later at a local hospital.

The investigation is ongoing, though no arrests have been made as of Feb. 17.

“The most important thing for me to know is if he knew it was coming, or if he was afraid,” Lauren Hoover said. “If in the last few minutes of his life he was in fear, or if he was sitting on the couch and it was a surprise.”

Lauren Hoover’s half-sister Megan Longley echoed Hoover’s sentiments.

“I’m anxious about when we’ll learn more details about what happened that evening,” Longley said. “For me at least, somebody pulled the trigger. It’s not so much the person, but just knowing what happened in the final moments, whether A.J. was scared or whatever.”

On the night of A.J. Hoover’s death, Lauren Hoover got a call from her father Alan Hoover telling her of the news. She had just walked into her apartment in Webster Groves and was with her roommates Roosman and Howard. Before she had gotten off the phone, Roosman and Howard had booked her a flight to Arizona.

Before she left, Hoover relayed the news to her three half-sisters, calls she had made before when her mother Kathy Hoover unexpectedly passed away from arrhythmia on Jan. 30, 2011. Hoover said she made the calls because on both occasions, her father had been too distraught. 

When Lauren Hoover arrived in Phoenix she hiked Lookout Mountain, the same mountain her brother often climbed. She said she went on it every day she was there and that one of A.J.’s friends had written “RIP AJ” on a stone at the base.

Deciding to go

A month after her brother’s death, Lauren Hoover said it is often the little things that bring back memories of A.J. She said she thinks about him every day.

“I do have my moments where I melt down and the littlest thing will make me cry, even though it’s not the little moment—it’s the reminder,” Lauren Hoover said.

Something as simple as a song—“Free Bird,” which played at A.J.’s funeral—brings back strong memories for Hoover. On a flight back to St. Louis from Florida, Hoover saw a group of newly enlisted military recruits and was reminded of her brother, who had planned to enlist after he graduated high school. By her own admission, she has been a bit of a “recluse” since her brother’s death, and even dealing with well-wishers has proven difficult to bear at times. She said this, along with other issues, influenced her decision to move to Florida permanently.

“People always say, like ‘you’re an inspiration,’ or, ‘I commend your strength,’ but there definitely are days when I feel like the world is stomping on me, feel a little defeated sometimes.”

Hoover said St. Louis and Phoenix held too much baggage for her, and she would likely stay away, at least for a while.

Hoover has stayed in contact with Roosman throughout their time at Webster. Both were recruited to play volleyball and have lived together for two years, even after Hoover stopped playing.

Roosman said she and Hoover enjoyed staying home and hanging out in their apartment—often watching “Friends.” On the night her brother died, Hoover watched “Friends” with Roosman and Howard through the night, until she could board her flight in the morning. For the first few hours, they had held out hope that A.J. Hoover might pull through, before the bad news came.

“I couldn’t believe that was happening to her,” Roosman said. “That’s when you begin to question why such bad things happen to one person who’s so strong and so great. And you think, that’s why God made her so strong, because she had to be.”

Roosman said one of the toughest parts of the night for her was leaving her friend alone at the airport gates.

Hoover, however, did meet up with support in the form of her half-sister Megan Longley, who had the same connecting flight in Houston en route to Arizona. 

On to Florida

Roosman said she will obviously miss Hoover, who also took her cat, Oliver, with her to Florida, but she understands why her friend made the decision she made.

“It was obviously very hard,” Roosman said. “I think she’ll be happy down there. And that it’s good for her to do something for herself. We supported her decision.”

Hoover is currently living with her boyfriend, Cameron Faulkner, in Ft. Meyers, Florida.  She has already been hired as a veterinary technician at an animal hospital, the same position she held in St. Louis.

Hoover’s cross-country and track coach Dan Graber believes Hoover will adapt to her new environment because, he said, she has always been independent and self-sufficient. Graber said he shares a story about Hoover’s toughness running in the cold to motivate his freshman track runners. Hoover’s hands and feet get cold faster than anyone else on the team. Instead of running inside on a treadmill, she insisted on running outside and used Coach Graber’s car to heat up during breaks.

“It just shows her character,” Graber said. “It gives me a lot of hope in how she’ll deal with this tragedy. A lot of people would’ve already given up with everything she’s gone through. I think she’s one of those people, where she’ll use this type of experience to try and help people.”

Hoover has continued running, though not competitively, for the past month and a half. She “dipped” down to 25 miles a week but has since been working back to her full fitness of about 50 miles a week. Graber said Hoover had run more in terms of sheer distance than just about any other member of the team. Hoover described running as therapeutic.

Roosman and Jewell plan to visit Hoover later this year.

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