N.C. tailgating death hits home at Navy

Former academy wrestler one of two shot, killed outside N.C. State stadium


September 09, 2004|By Kent Baker | Kent Baker,SUN STAFF

When Navy wrestling coach Bruce Burnett first heard the news that Brett Harman had died Saturday, the first question that raced through his mind was "Is he in Iraq already?"

"When I heard that it happened while he was tailgating at a football game, I was just stunned," said Burnett of the fatal incident involving his former wrestler. "I think everybody here reacted with 1) grief, 2) anger and 3) they couldn't believe it. You try to figure it out, but the reality is you can't."

Harman, a 2003 academy graduate who became a Marine lieutenant and was stationed at Camp Lejeune, N.C., was having one last party with friends at North Carolina State's Carter-Finley Stadium before he was to be deployed to the Middle East.

A brief altercation in the parking lot eventually led to the shooting deaths of Harman, from Park Ridge, Ill., and Kevin McCann, of Chicago, both 23. Brothers Tony Harrell Johnson, 20, and Timothy Wayne Johnson, 22, both of Raleigh, N.C., have been arrested and charged with first-degree murder. The Johnsons were both denied bond yesterday.

Current Navy wrestling captain Pat Lukanich, en route yesterday to Chicago for Harman's memorial service tomorrow, said everyone "was having the time of their lives" until the confrontation.

"There were 12 guys down there from Annapolis and the Chicago area, and my brother [Nate] was one of them with him. It was supposed to be the last time they'd get together before he left."

According to Lukanich's version of the incident, the suspects were driving recklessly through the crowded tailgating area before Harman and McCann "stopped the car. A small wrestling match followed, and then the two brothers left and came back. One brother broke a beer bottle and went after Kevin. Then they shot them."

McCann, shot in the face, was pronounced dead at the scene. Harman died at a nearby hospital.

The family of the Johnsons had earlier said they fought with Harman and McCann after beer was thrown at the brothers' car.

A memorial Mass for Harman was said Tuesday at St. Andrew's chapel on the academy grounds.

"I know we had a few despondent midshipmen," Burnett said. "They prepare for battle and war every day here. At this age and into the early 20s, they feel immortal. But when they're faced with something like this, they know they really aren't.

"I haven't talked to his family yet. But preparing to have their son or brother to go to Iraq soon is one thing, and going to North Carolina because he'd been killed is an entirely different thing."

Lukanich said the team will almost assuredly dedicate this season to Harman after talking with the family. "

"We're just trying to process it all right now," he said. "He [Harman] was the reason I came to the academy. I've known him a long time."

"He was the type of person who really helped everyone," Burnett said. "I think he enjoyed that as much as his own success. This is tough to swallow. Two family systems have been absolutely destroyed."

The Chicago Tribune, a Tribune Publishing newspaper, Associated Press and Raleigh, N.C., News and Observer contributed to this article.

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