Draylen Mason, the 17-year-old killed Monday morning in the second of three bomb attacks in Austin in less than two weeks, is described by those who knew him as an exceptionally talented student who was accepted into the selective Butler School of Music at the University of Texas at Austin.
Interim Austin Chief of Police Brian Manley confirmed Mason was killed Monday by one of two package bombs left outside Austin homes. Two other people, including his mother, were hurt.
Manley, in a Tuesday afternoon press conference, said, “From everything I’ve heard about Draylen, he was an outstanding young man who was going places with his life — and it’s an absolute tragedy that he’s no longer with us.”
His mother, who was also injured in the explosion in the 4800 block of Oldfort Hill Drive around 6:44 a.m., is in stable condition, the chief said.
The dean of the College of Fine Arts at UT Austin, Doug Dempster, said Mason was the “most remarkable talent in a most remarkable youth orchestra program called Austin Soundwaves.”
The program provides free music instruction to artistically underserved children, especially in east Austin.
“Draylen was one of the very first students to grow musically through the entire program and was due to graduate this spring,” Dempster said. Mason, who played the bass, was on track to audition into the Butler School of Music at UT beginning next year as a freshman.
“At Soundwaves performances one could often see him leaning in to lead and coach younger and more tentative players,” Dempster said. “His gentle confidence seemed to come from a conviction that hard work and talent was going to work for him. It did.”
Dean Dempster ended with, “The loss of any child is heartbreaking. The loss of a child with such conspicuous ambition, talent and determination is the cruelest kind of heartbreak.”
In an interview with Houston NBC affiliate KPRC, Austin Youth Orchestra Conductor William Dick was visibly shaken to hear of Mason’s death.
“People kind of have an aura about them and here’s Draylen with the string bass, this kid is just incandescent, he’s just like a Rembrandt painting,” Dick said of Draylen. “The light is coming out of him, the energy and the positives of him and the desire to be good.”
Dick explained that Mason had just been accepted into the Interlochen Arts Academy this summer, which he described as a “training ground for kids with exceptional ability.”
Mason also took karate classes and taught martial arts at Fire Dragon Martial Arts in Pflugerville.
Grand Master Moses Williams, who runs the karate school, says Mason started there when he was just five years old.
“‘I’m gonna be a black belt one of these days,’ was the first thing to come out of his mouth,” Williams said, adding, “At 10, he was a black belt.”
Williams says Mason went on to become a third-degree black belt, and was teaching karate classes by the time he was 14. Williams also says Mason not only played bass, but a number of instruments, calling him one of the most ambitious young men he’d ever met.
“Outstanding bass player, guitar player, keyboard player, cello player, and then he was one of my number one students,” Williams said.
Mason attended East Austin College Prep, explained Samuel Osemene, who taught history to Mason there. Osemene explained that Mason was very bright, taking college-level classes in high school.
“He was always smiling, he comes to class every morning, he would always say ‘hi Dad’ to me just to play around,” Osemene laughed.
Monday night, Osemene said he went home after hearing of Mason’s death and stared at assignments Mason had turned in with disbelief.
“I’ve been thinking about it, I just can’t believe it that he’s gone,” he said. Osemene, a Longhorn himself, was very proud to hear Mason talking about his desires to go to UT.
“I knew he had a dream, what he wanted to be when he grew up. In fact, he invited me to his graduation,” Osemene said, explaining that Mason loved music but also talked about wanting to go into law school or politics down the line.
Draylen won the Hispanic Bar Association of Austin’s annual eighth-grade essay competition in 2013 with an essay entitled “Racial Profiling.”
“Draylen stood out as an extremely bright young man with a maturity beyond his years. Our deepest condolences go out to Draylen’s family,” the HBAA Charitable Foundation said in a statement.