Botham Shem Jean Remembered as a Cheerful, God-Fearing Presence

Botham Shem Jean speaks at his alma mater, Harding University.
Botham Shem Jean speaks at his alma mater, Harding University. Harding University
There was one sure way to know you were near Botham Shem Jean, the man shot and killed by a Dallas police officer Thursday night after she entered his apartment believing it was her own, his friends say.

Whether he'd spotted someone he knew or taken the stage to lead worship at Harding University, the small Christian college he attended in Arkansas, Jean would take any opportunity to bellow "Yeaaaaaaaaaaah" in his distinctive Caribbean accent. 

"Every time you'd see him, across campus or across wherever, if he'd see you, or you could see him, you'd just hear 'Yeeeaaahh' really loud and you'd be like, 'Where is he?,'" Jean's friend Levi Heasley says. "'I know it's Botham, and I know he's trying to get somebody's attention. I don't know if it's mine.'"

Jean, 26, came to Arkansas from Saint Lucia, an island in the eastern Caribbean. He frequently led Harding's daily chapel services — he favored traditional hymns, says Kidron Cannon, another friend — and served as resident assistant. It was in that role that he met Heasley. The two, Heasley says, became fast friends thanks to Jean's generous personality and their shared faith.

"He was so easygoing, he probably would've asked her if she wanted some coffee." — Levi Heasley

tweet this

"They'd have to come and check whether or not you were in your room every single night. Most RAs were like 'OK, cool, you're there,' but he would come in and say 'Hey, what's going on? How was your day?'" Heasley says. "He genuinely cared and would talk to every single person on the hallway to make sure their day was all right and see if they needed anything — just to talk, or just anything. We started to hang out more and just talk and laugh and hang out outside of class because he was just fun to be around."

Jean graduated from Harding's College of Business Administration with a degree in finance in 2016, leading him to his job at PricewaterhouseCoopers in Dallas. Getting a good job was just a secondary goal for Jean while he was in school, though, Cannon says.

"I can say for sure that his purpose and his goal was just to serve God and just to use his talents, wherever God led him," Cannon says.

Jean's personality made the news of his death, and how it happened, especially shocking, Heasley says. Jean would've been more likely to invite someone accidentally coming to his door to come inside rather than get into a confrontation, Heasley says.

"He was so easygoing, he probably would've asked her if she wanted some coffee," Heasley says. "That's just his personality. 'Hey, you're in the wrong apartment, would you like some coffee? Do you want to sit down and talk?'"

Jean's family grieved his loss on social media Friday. His sister, Allisa Charles-Findley, lamented that her younger brother was going to miss his upcoming birthday.

"Just last week I was thinking of what to get you for your birthday, now I have to go pick out your casket," Charles-Findley said. "You will always be my baby brother. I love you with all of my heart Botham Shem Jean. Until we meet again my love."
KEEP THE DALLAS OBSERVER FREE... Since we started the Dallas Observer, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Dallas, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Stephen Young has written about Dallas news for the Observer since 2014. He's a Dallas native and a graduate of the University of North Texas.
Contact: Stephen Young