Every time Janice Owens goes past Mitchell Hall, she thinks about it. And as she sits in her office in Turner Hall looking at the baby pictures of her granddaughter who is almost 19, she is also reminded of him.
“His daughter looks just like him,” she said.
The three-story brick building that has always been a men’s dorm on South Carolina State University’s campus has a history most people do not know.
If those walls could talk.
Now the professor of teacher education and director of clinical experiences evaluation and certification, Owens sits in her burgundy office chair staring out the window as she talks about April 1, 1993.
“It was a regular school day until we realized this had happened,” Owens said. “Everybody just gathered over in the dorm where it happened, sovereign and sad. The only thing you could do was go in the lobby. They were standing around wondering if it was really true. People were waiting and hoping and wishing that what we had heard happened had not happened.”
But it had occurred. And it wasn’t a prank gone awry.
21-year-old Aaron Muhammad had hung himself in his Mitchell Hall dorm room.
“I remember hearing about it,” said Carlana Kohn-Davis. “I was in my dorm, I lived in Truth Hall. And it was an eerie time on campus.”
Kohn-Davis is now an English instructor at SC State, but she was a student there at the time of Muhammad’s death.
No one had mentioned his name to her in a very long time. But now that it was brought up once again, she wondered if that was the reason she named her son Aaron. And even though she didn’t know him personally, she felt his death affected her as well as it affected his family and friends.
“It’s not something you would expect to happen,” Kohn-Davis said. “It was shocking. It was hurtful. I don’t know what ever came from this story, but I just know that it was a really troubling time on campus. No one believed they were getting the true story.”
Because of security reasons and school policy, a lot of information was not available. Even 20 years later, the president of the University at the time, Barbara Hatton, still declined to mention any details.
“At the time of Aaron Muhammad’s tragic death, his family requested that SCSU respect its right to privacy in the matter,” Hatton said. “Their request was granted. For this reason, I do not discuss what I know about Mr. Muhammad’s death.”
But students wanted to know what was going on. And because they couldn’t get anyone to talk, there was a lot of distrust in Bulldog Country.
“For me it made me second-guess my surroundings,” said Kohn-Davis. “It was alleged that he committed suicide. However, after talking to other students on campus, the story was he was murdered and that it was a cover-up.”
Regardless of the rumors, Hatton was convinced by the investigation that the campus was not at risk.
“We were trying to make sure that everyone calmed down and waited for us to establish the facts and tell them that everything was okay,” Hatton said. “All available resources, both on and off campus, were utilized in the resulting investigation. Every possible accommodation to the family was made.”
Muhammad was the nephew of Louis Farrakhan, the Nation of Islam leader. Muhammad and his cousin, Abnar Farrakhan came to SC State with big plans for the NOI chapter on campus. I contacted Farrakhan via Twitter, but had no luck getting an interview.
“He was a brilliant, well-mannered and articulate young man,” said Owens as she remembered meeting him. “Everybody loved him. He was quite a gentleman, well-dressed at all times, hair maintained, handsome and slim.”
Owens has been working at SC State for more than 20 years. And although she remembers what happened, it doesn’t bother her because there are so many positive things to remember about Muhammad.
“There are so many nice memories of him here,” Owens said. “Many of the professors who were here at the time, we still share those good times.”
Muhammad was dating Owens’ daughter who was also a student at SC State in the early 90s. And she was pregnant with a little girl they would later name Fatimah who would grow up to look and act just like her dad, according to Owens, although she would never get the chance to meet him.