“He got nervous and couldn’t talk — (he was) stuttering,” Jennifer said. “He thought everyone was thinking things about him. He realized that it was him and not just the school itself.”
After Kevin’s death, Jennifer said her family found a dog-eared page in a book his psychologist gave him about social anxiety. Debbie said the page was about how a person feels when they are in a situation, everyone is talking and they’re afraid to speak out.
“You feel so alone. People laugh at you, and you don’t know why,” Jennifer said, listing information from the book. “We think that must have been something significant.”
Debbie said Kevin’s social anxiety went unnoticed because she just thought he was a homebody. The Lawalls are a close-knit family, so when Kevin didn’t want to go to parties, Debbie wasn’t concerned.
“It didn’t put up a red flag because I just thought he didn’t want to party,” she said.
Kevin grew up with the same people he went to high school with, so he was comfortable in that environment. He was also an athlete — he fished and golfed.
“That’s why it fooled us, because he had all these kids around him all the time,” Debbie said.
But when Kevin attended an intramural sports meeting at Tech, the experience was overwhelming and his social anxiety flared up.
After Kevin jumped from a second-story window, a helicopter transported him to a hospital — he was still holding onto life.
Thomas, Kevin’s father, was notified at work, and Kevin’s younger brother, Jeff, a senior at Westfield, was taken out of school. Meanwhile, Jennifer and her brother Brian, a sophomore engineering major, were at Tech. Their parents hadn’t contacted them.
Jennifer said Brian saw a post on Kevin’s Facebook wall about what happened. He sent Jennifer a Facebook chat message telling her what he read, and Jennifer drove to Brian’s place to try to get in touch with their mother.
They found out Kevin broke his spine in three places, punctured his lung and experienced shallow breathing and a low heart rate — he had a 5 percent chance to live.
As a pre-med student, Jennifer feared the worst, knowing a 5 percent chance to live is not high.
Jennifer also didn’t know if Kevin jumped headfirst or feet-first — people can live if they jump feet-first. But Kevin didn’t.
Dougherty also found out about Kevin being severely injured via Facebook — he noticed Brian had written a message on Kevin’s wall. Dougherty’s brother later told him Kevin died in a text message.
“I was really sad,” Dougherty said. “Another friend here is a good friend of Kevin’s. We couldn’t believe it. We were really sad — just unbelievable.”
Brian’s girlfriend, who is a student at Radford University, drove him and Jennifer home because they were too upset to be behind the wheel.
Jennifer and Brian were home for a week-and-a-half before returning to Tech, during which time there was an open viewing for the family, a wake and a funeral.
About 400 people attended the funeral. Traffic lights were blocked off for the procession of cars to the funeral home.
“It is like a weird memory, but it meant a lot to know that he had a huge impact, and he didn’t even know,” Jennifer said. “He had no idea how many people cared about him in our neighborhood.”
Jennifer said the funeral was surreal and went by fast.
“I wish I could have done (the funeral) now,” she said, “because you could get more out of it because at the time you are more numb.”
Dougherty and five of Kevin’s other friends were the pall bearers in the funeral.