SALT LAKE CITY — Utah players and coaches returned to practice on Monday to mourn one of those killed in a shooting at a post-game party.
The team was on the field for the first time since sophomore defensive back Aaron Lowe was shot on Sept. 26, just nine months after Lowe’s friend and teammate, who drove Ty Jordan back, was killed in an accidental shooting. The team had a previously scheduled bye last week.
“We miss Aaron,” said coach Kyle Whittingham, who had noticeably watery eyes. “Disgusting loss. For our team it was challenging to experience the loss we have in less than a year – with Ty and Aaron -.”
Salt Lake City police arrested 22-year-old Buk M. Buk on Sunday in the shooting and charged him with aggravated murder, attempted murder and discharging a firearm. Online prison records do not indicate whether he has a lawyer who can speak on his behalf.
Police Chief Mike Brown did not speak of a motive and declined to answer questions from reporters. But he did say the shooting was not a targeted attack on the university, the athletics department or Lowe, nor was it gang related.
Whittingham said he learned of Lowe’s death hours after the shooting. The Utes held a few team meetings later that day. Team counselors and psychologists were made available to talk to shocked players.
“It’s hard,” Whittingham said. “There is nothing but a huge challenge in a situation like this.”
He described this as the most challenging year of his coaching career, helping his players, fellow coaches and himself through the tragic events.
“When you’re a head coach you have 120 players and you treat them all and feel about them all like you do your own kids,” Whittingham said. “So it’s like losing one yourself.”
A small memorial to Lowe has been erected outside the main entrances to the Spence and Cleone Eccles Football Center. Signs with messages like “Forever 22” and “Rest in Love, A Lowe” were propped up by a door, surrounded by bouquets of flowers and candles.
The team plans to officially commemorate Lowe in other ways. His locker will continue to bear his name and jersey, as the Utes did for Jordan earlier this year. Whittingham said he also wants to work with the school to permanently retire number 22 in honor of the two players.
Jordan wore No. 22 during his freshman season with the Utes. Lowe switched to the same number for the 2021 season to honor his friend. Lowe was also the first recipient of the Ty Jordan Memorial Scholarship in August.
“You won’t see anyone wearing the number 22 on this program again, at least as long as I’m the head coach,” Whittingham said. “We would like to see that definitively retired. That is our wish and I think you will see that happen.”
The Utes will play their first game since Lowe’s death at USC on Saturday. Whittingham said none of the players have opted out.