A love too big for this world is what some would call it— a story that will forever live in the hearts of the family and friends of our fellow Bearkat students Will & Bailee Ackerman Byler.
Will, 23,graduated in 2014 from Faith Academy in his hometown of Bellville, TX. He thenmoved to Huntsville and began his college career here at Sam Houston StateUniversity where he competed on the SHSU rodeo team, qualifying for the 2017National College Finals in Casper, Wyoming. If Will wasn’t in the arena youoften saw him with his friends and beautiful girlfriend, Bailee. Will loved theoutdoors, no matter what it involved: hunting, sports or just sitting around acampfire. He was planning on graduating in May 2019 with a degree inAgricultural Engineering, and he planned on going to work for the familybusiness at W.T. Byler Company.
Bailee, also 23, was working on her Bachelors degrees in Animal Science and Mass Communications and was ready to graduate in December of this year. Bailee is best known for her beautiful smile, love of family, friends, animals and most of all her faith. Last year in 2017, Bailee and Will met here at Sam Houston where it was love from the start. Both coming from a background of rodeo and growing up in solid Christian homes, it was not hard for this couple to realize they wanted to spend the rest of their lives together, and that’s exactly what they did. Last December, Will asked for Bailee’s hand in marriage at his family ranch in Uvalde, TX. Bailee said yes, and from that day on you could not take the smile off Will’s face. The couple quickly began planning the biggest day of their lives while still making time for school, friends, family and rodeo.
On Nov. 3, 2018,Will and Bailee said “I do” surrounded by their closest loved ones at the BylerRanch. They had what several have called “the fairytale wedding” filled withlove, laughs and the two biggest smiles a bride and groom could have. Followingthe two newlyweds’ wedding reception, they boarded a helicopter to fly to theirhoneymoon.
Will and Bailee both waved goodbye to their friends and family for the last time.
Shortly aftertaking off, Mr. and Mrs. Byler went to be with their Lord and Savoir to live onthe perfect marriage. Our Bearkat familyhas grown smaller this week, but will forever be changed for the classmates andprofessors that had the joy of meeting these two beautiful, young souls. Will and Bailee Byler left our world at the happiesttime of their lives. They will be missed by many, but will forever beremembered in our hearts.
The remainder of this story is a Letter to the Editor from senior Liberal Studies major James Barry.
It was not an easy decision to write this article, I am conflicted that my actions may potentially disrespect the families of our departed. I pray my fears are not realized.
With this being said, I do feel Sam Houston State University has blatantly and embarrassingly disrespected the lives and memories of our classmates Bailee Ackerman and Will Byler.
On the night of Nov. 4th, Will and Bailee enjoyed a fairytale wedding. Tragically, the newlyweds lost their lives departing their reception just a few hours after completing their vows. In a horrific accident, a marriage ended before it could begin.
While Baliee and Will are no longer here, their families are living a nightmare. No words can provide comfort to friends and family in a time like this. I was a classmate of Bailee Ackerman, and I was deeply shaken by the news of their tragic deaths.
I returned to campus on Monday morning in a state of disbelief and sorrow, suspecting that our student body would be, as well. Yet the Monday following the deaths of Bailee and Will I saw no such mourning, no sense of loss and in this writer’s opinion,no respect for the passing of two of our own at SHSU. I expected to find a community and university in pain, but a community that would pull together in a confusing and terrible time.
I saw no such community.
On Monday I was looking to find an email in the inbox of my SHSU account from school officials alerting us as a student body of the loss of our classmates—reassuring that they are here for us and will try their best to provide a sense of unity. I expected that our professors were to make an announcement, hold a moment of silence, or offer counseling to any students who may be troubled by the loss of their classmates. Through a week of classes, I have seen nothing of the sort.
Multiple faculty members have confirmed that they did not receive any notice from university officials regarding the deaths of our classmates.
On our first day of class, Bailee Ackerman sat one row in front of me in the Dan Rather Communications Building. She opened her computer, and an engagement photo of herself with her then-fiancé Will was her background. The date of Nov. 4th, 2018 was stamped in the bottom left corner of the picture.Throughout the semester, the picture did not change. I can only imagine that she was counting down the days.
As class was dismissed last week, she alerted our professor that she would miss class for some time, when asked why she responded, “I’m getting married this weekend!”
I did not know it at the time, but these were the last words I would hear Bailee say.
I have replayed this moment countless times since her passing. I do not think I will ever forget her voice, or her words. Bailee’s seat now sits empty in our class, and my heart aches every time I walk into that room, knowing that she will not be there.
My only hope is that Bailee and Will’s last day on this earth was their happiest day.
Can we believe that our university is actually a community given such a lack of outreach?
Is it acceptable that a classmate of Will or Bailee can enter a classroom, 36 hours after the news of their deaths had surfaced, unaware if their professors had received any notice? Is this how a university responds to tragedy? With silence?