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Sudden death of promising musician leaves Columbia family reeling

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A Columbia family is still reeling from two devastating blows after learning of their 21-year-old son's sudden death in New York and discovering the theft of his prized electric guitar and other music gear from their home less than two weeks later.

After working until midnight Jan. 25 as a waiter in Buffalo, where he'd moved in May, Aaron Davis Reed, a 2010 Hammond High School graduate, returned to the apartment he shared with three roommates, spoke to them briefly and then lay down to sleep on the sofa.

The next morning, the roommates discovered Aaron — a musician striving to make his mark as a guitarist, songwriter and producer — lying fully clothed on the bathroom floor. They called 911, but Aaron was pronounced dead at the scene.

"My brother, who lives in a Buffalo suburb, called around 11 a.m., Jan. 26 to tell us what had happened," said Aaron's father, Brian Reed. "That's a call you never want to get."

Jim McClure, investigator in the Erie County medical examiner's office, said cause of death is pending autopsy results, which may not be available for up to 120 days.

Reed said his son was known for his positive outlook.

"He had a quirky half-smile and was always happy," he said. "I had spoken to him that Saturday at work, and he talked with his grandmother by phone that day for 20 minutes. He was also planning a trip to California with friends.

"I'm comfortable with saying that he wasn't suicidal and that I don't think there was foul play," Reed said.

Reed, a professor and chairman of chemical, biochemical and environmental engineering at UMBC, had made the trip Feb. 4 to western New York to bring Aaron's ashes home and to retrieve his belongings, including $10,000 worth of music equipment.

Physically and emotionally weary from the journey, Reed decided to leave the gear stashed in the family's Dodge Caravan overnight upon his return Feb. 6 so he could rest. He parked the minivan in their driveway off a peaceful street in Kings Contrivance, locked it and went into the house.

The next morning, Feb. 7, the family discovered the van had broken been into during the night and the equipment had been stolen.

"That was a double whammy after what we've been through," Reed said.

Reward for stolen gear

The family "is desperate" to get back Aaron's Fender Stratocaster, "a very high-end electric guitar" that is white with a tortoise shell pick guard, as well as his Yamaha acoustic guitar and a rare model of crate tube amp that he used, he said.

"Those three pieces are an extension of Aaron, so they're extremely important to us," Reed said, though other pieces of equipment were also taken. "All we want is the gear back, no questions asked, no charges filed."

The family is offering a $500 reward for information leading to the recovery of the equipment, he said.

Reed has posted a plea on bandmix.com, asking fellow musicians to keep an eye out for any attempt to sell Aaron's gear. He has listed each piece online by model and serial number. Family members have also alerted area stores that sell used music equipment to the burglary.

Howard County police spokeswoman Sherry Llewellyn said, "Police are investigating whether the equipment may have been stolen by a known or unknown suspect" after the Reeds advised them that "numerous people knew through postings on social media where the property would be.

"No one has been charged, but the case is ongoing," Llewellyn said, adding that persons with information should call police at 410-313-3700.

As the investigations into Aaron's death and the burglary continue, the family is working to return to normal routines as best they can.

Aaron's mother, Esther Reed, is a nurse who counsels hotline patients, and his 17-year-old sister, Julia, is a senior at Hammond High who will study journalism in the fall at the University of Maryland.

"We still have a tremendous amount of unanswered questions," Esther Reed said. "It's nerve-racking."

All members of the Reed family have found some solace in a nonprofit they have founded in Aaron's memory. Called the Pick Me Up Foundation — named after the last alternative-rock song Aaron was writing — it will provide resources to underprivileged, aspiring musicians.

"Our basement used to be filled with kids — rap, hip-hop artists, Aaron would record them all," Brian Reed recalled. "He had a strong heart for helping kids make music and for teaching them how to do stuff. He felt that no kid should be kept from giving music a shot because his or her family couldn't afford to pay for an instrument or lessons or to have their music recorded."

Aaron had proved himself to be a musician of diverse talents who, aside from the guitar, also played the piano and drums. He often recorded himself playing each of the instruments separately for a song and then combined all the tracks, Brian Reed said.

He played and sang in a local band called The Runways, who performed in Ellicott City at such venues as the Diamondback Tavern and the Judge's Bench; and in another band in Buffalo called New World Commotion. He had recorded two albums of his music and worked for a year at a recording studio in Dublin.

"We had thought the move to Buffalo, where there's a good music scene, and Aaron's cousins were nearby, would make a great steppingstone to a career," Reed said.

Esther Reed said she has been overwhelmed by the response to her son's death.

"He gave a lot in his short time here," she said. "He saw so much promise in people through music, and liked to show them a different way of expressing themselves that they may not have tried."

She intends to show musicians the collection of poems he had written, hoping that one or more may find a way to set his words to music because she "just can't let them go to waste."

Julia Reed said she'll still lean on her big brother even though he's gone.

"I know I'll continue to learn from his caring and adventurous characteristics the rest of my life," she said. "Aaron taught me that passions are worth pursuing."

Bilal Khalid, who graduated from Hammond with Aaron, spoke about his friend at a Feb. 9 memorial service attended by more than 250 people crammed into Amherst House in Kings Contrivance to celebrate his life. Some of his friends jammed at the service with provided instruments to honor Aaron's musical legacy.

"Aaron was a very open person, and there wasn't a person he came across that he didn't give all of himself to," said Khalid, a senior economics major at the University of Maryland.

"He had a natural passion to create and to be different," he said. "He lived without regret, and chased what he wanted to do in life."

While at Hammond, Aaron took computer science for three years with teacher Alan Kostrick, who also attended the service.

"He was such a fun-loving and positive kid who had a great energy about him," he recalled. "His death has been really hard on a lot of people."

Kostrick, who often wore one of Aaron's band's T-shirts in class on casual Fridays, said he's considering setting up an open mike night at Hammond in Aaron's name as an annual tribute.

Brian Reed said he has high hopes for the Pick Me Up Foundation, especially since two people have contacted him about making monetary donations in the tens of thousands of dollars from their personal estates to help launch it.

"We've been throwing ourselves into working on the foundation so that Aaron's love of music and his compassionate spirit can live on," he said. "It's the only thing keeping us going."

For more information on the nonprofit set up in Aaron Reed's name, go to thepickmeupfoundation.com.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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