“Freedom isn’t free”
Cpl. Hayden Harris of Guys, Tennessee was escorted from Memphis International Airport through Selmer, surrounded by an escort of the Highway Patrol, McNairy County Sheriff’s Department, City of Selmer Police Department, McNairy County Ambulance Service, emergency personnel and Harris’s family on the evening of Tuesday, December 29 while en route to Shackelford Funeral Home.
Harris, 20, is the son of Reggie and Christy Harris of Guys, Tennessee. He was a 2018 graduate of McNairy Central High School where he was an accomplished golfer and baseball player.
Harris was found murdered on December 19, allegedly by a fellow soldier and an unidentified 16 year-old boy, in a wooded area of Byram Township, New Jersey.
Harris’ escort into Selmer was met with dozens of friends, family members and residents paying their respects along the roadside.
The McNairy County Sheriff’s Department and the Selmer Police Department said they were “honored” to be part of the effort.
“One vacant chair”
As cold wind and rain lashed McNairy County the night of Wednesday, December 30, there was a decidedly different mood within the walls of Crazy K Ranch in Michie.
Cozy lights and low murmurs filled the spacious dining hall as soldiers from Harris’ New York platoon, and the New Jersey first responders who found Harris, gathered to pay their respects to the young Guys resident.
At one table, the first responders who found Harris reminisced solemnly on the events that brought them here.
“This stuff just doesn’t happen where we’re from,” the Fire Chief said sadly. “It feels like we’ve lost someone of our own.”
“Senseless” was the word of consensus at the table, when asked to describe Harris’ death.
“Coming down here to honor him really feels like closure,” said one of the officers. “We got to meet the Harris family, and it was like meeting long-time friends.”
“They’ve been great,” another firefighter added. “This whole community has been great.”
Across the room, the soft clacking of game pieces filled the space as young soldiers laughed and joked
halfheartedly around a singular empty chair. The chair, crooked just slightly as if the occupant had just risen, was left open for Harris.
“It meant the world to me (to be here)” said one soldier, to a chorus of nods.
“He was our brother,” another added.
The group had just returned from Kuwait on Christmas Eve, only to be greeted by this tragedy.
“We can tell how loved he was here,” he added.
When asked to describe the Harris they knew, all of them lit up with smiles.
“He was our tacti-cool brother,” one laughed, referring to the military name for someone who is always using the coolest “tough guy” gear. “He had to look cool. Look cool feel cool.”
For a few minutes, all was right with the group, as they shared hilarious personal moments of their friendship with Harris, and a side of the Guys resident that not all McNairians got to know.
“We’re going to miss him,” a quieter soldier added. “Every day.”
“Determined. Full of love. Stubborn.”
These were the words that Harris’ family chose to describe him by, as recounted by Wes Moore, friend and fellow church member of Harris, as well as a member of the McNairy County Sheriff’s Department. This description could not be more fitting, as evidenced by the countless stories and memories shared at
the Harris’ funeral service Thursday at Oakland Baptist Church in Corinth, Mississippi.
“He had the best smile you could imagine,” said Moore. “Just one of the kindest hearts and one of the nicest kids I’ve ever met in my life.”
Captain Xavier Brown, Cpl. Harris’ commanding officer, spoke as well, and recounted a conversation he had with his First Sergeant, in which he said “you could see the happiness in Harris’ eyes. He was where he was supposed to be.”
“Harris, he’s one of the good ones,” Xavier said to his First Sergeant. “He’s going to go far.”
Specialist Zachary Moore, friend and fellow soldier of Harris, agreed—particularly with the description of Harris as determined.
“He made it. Every day,” Zachary said, telling a story of Harris’ brave attempt at an obstacle course that left him with a pulled muscle and a limp.
“He was so tall and skinny,” Zachary laughed, slightly tearfully. ”I was like—are you okay man?”
“He’s a reflection of this community, and that’s so clear to me now after coming here,” he continued. “I can’t thank you all enough for giving him to us.”
Harris was laid to rest in Henry Cemetery in Corinth.