INDIANAPOLIS — Christmas looks different this year for the Williams family, who lost their son, 20-year-old Ethan Williams, to gun violence in October.
“We feel as if something was stolen from us. But not just us, our city, people that needed people like Ethan to grow up and speak out for them,” said Jason Williams, Ethan’s dad.
“In the middle of the night on October 24 I got a phone call from his best friend saying that something bad had happened to Ethan,” he said.
Williams was visiting New York City, a dream he had ever since he was a child, when he was struck and killed by a stray bullet while sitting outside his Airbnb rental with friends in Brooklyn.
“They all ran inside and were checking themselves because they said they could feel bullets going by,” he said. “Ethan never, never made it inside.”
“It was a pretty rough day. Worst day of my life. I can’t imagine a worse day,” he said. “We’re a close family, and he has two siblings, my wife and I.”
He said the trip was a way for Williams to get a bit of a short break during a stressful fall semester and incorporate his love for skateboarding with a place he’d always wanted to go.
“They were going to skate, and take some photos and shoot some film, and he wanted to see all the sights and go read a book, and Central Park, and all of that stuff that he wanted to do,” said Williams.
Williams tells FOX59 News his son was an honors graduate from Franklin Central High School, served as a Charter Member of the Mayor’s Youth Leadership Council, and was a sophomore media and film major at Indiana University.
He was also studying the Rwandan language at IU and interested in returning to Rwanda, where he previously volunteered to care for orphans, to continue working.
But above all, Jason Williams said his son was an advocate for helping Indianapolis’ youth and putting an end to youth violence.
“He was a very strong advocate for those kids and for those communities so the irony of what happened to him is not lost on me,” said Williams. “He was just a really well rounded, really neat, big-hearted kid who refused to engage in anything that would be close to violence.”
This year, the Williams family knows their biggest wish of having their son home with them is an impossible one, but they’re turning a tragedy into a reason to push forward, honoring Ethan’s legacy and initiating the change in the community Ethan wanted to be a part of.
“He just felt like there is a socioeconomic disparity between the suburbs and the city and he cared about that a lot. He wanted cities to be a better place for kids and youth. He was also deeply troubled by youth violence in our city,” said Williams.
Williams said the local skateboarding community approached him and asked if they could dedicate Indianapolis’ newly proposed “in the heart of the city” skate park at Willard Park to Ethan, and name it after him.
“I instantly said you know what I don’t, I don’t know anybody or anything about this, but I’ll break my legs trying to make it happen for Ethan and for you guys.”
Williams said his son felt places that fostered a community were key to bringing together people of all backgrounds, especially in a city like Indianapolis.
“These are the kids that didn’t grow up, a lot of them anyway having access to, you know, club, basketball, and travel soccer, and an active parent or two in their lives. And I feel in a way, kind of like a surrogate father just to a lot of them looking to me like hey, we want this and we know you’ll figure it out,” said Williams.
He said there are a handful of places where kids skate in Indianapolis, but some are outside of the immediate city and other places, like an old tennis court that’s been taken over as a skate park.
“Another thing for him is it wasn’t necessarily about the skating, it’s about the community that’s built around skate parks. These kids find each other and they look out for each other.”
Williams said the hope is to expand the skate park once it is built, “We want to eventually get a little library in front of it, full of books. Ethan wanted to go to grad school and study something with either literature, possibly library science. he wasn’t real sure but he was a book nut.”
“So we want to coordinate those pieces so this city has a great place for kids to safely play and skate and get to know each other, be a place that when they go there,” he said, “they know that it’s there because of a kind of kid that loves people, and he loved his community and he loved his city wasn’t just about the skating with him. It was about the whole package.”
The project has already received the support of Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett, professional skateboarder Tony Hawk, the NFL Referee’s Union, and other organizations.
Jason Williams said they have a signed contract from the City of Indianapolis to build Ethan’s Skate Park at Willard Park, but in order to achieve their goal, they will need to raise $230,000.
Williams said, “We’re trying. We have a lot of money to raise, and I’ve never done anything like this.”
“We’re relying heavily on the goodwill of people. We’ve had a lot of a lot of individual donors, but it’s a big project where we’re looking forward to some corporations stepping up and saying, hey we want this to this is a good thing for kids, it’s good thing for a city and we want to honor the right kind of person, and Ethan’s that kind of person,” he said.
He said, “if somehow his legacy moves forward because of this, if I can pull out any little bit of silver lining I think this is it.”
“It’s not Ethan. That’s what we want. But, I think, to be honest this is the next best thing.”
Hunger Skateparks has released a rendering of the proposal, including the addition of Ethan’s skate park memorial.
“I just wish he could know about these things,” said Williams. “We’re pretty proud of him.”
“I so wish that this could have happened without even needing to lose his life that he could have just been a part of it, becoming a thing.”
Williams said he is grateful for the support they have received and hopes they will be able to honor Ethan in a way he would have loved.