A week ago, Jan Richardson’s nephew, 22-year-old Bakari Henderson, was beaten to death outside of a bar in Greece, thousands of miles from home.
Since that terrible day, Richardson has been the family’s liaison to the world as her family attempts to process the horror. Each day adds a measure of finality. A memorial service for Henderson was held Friday, and the funeral is set for Saturday but is closed to the media.
Each day, the criminal investigation into Henderson’s killing in Greece grinds forward in halting fashion.
“It’s a traumatizing situation,” Richardson said. “You just try to move through day-to-day, trying to get done what needs to be done.”
Greek police have identified nine suspects in the case so far. All have been charged with intentional homicide, which is punishable by life in prison.
After a series of delays, a Greek judge remanded six of the men to await trial in prison, while granting bail for two. Their bond was set at $5,700 apiece. A hearing for the ninth is scheduled for Saturday. Of the nine arrested, eight have ties to Serbia.
When the actual trial might begin is unclear. The Greek justice system is notoriously slow and the suspects can be held for up to 18 months, leaving Henderson’s family searching for answers with little clarity on when they might come.
However, the bail hearings produced surveillance camera footage from outside of the bar that shed light on the last moments of the fight that left Henderson fatally wounded, largely confirming accounts offered by Greek police and local media about how the attack ended.
What led to the beating remains something of a mystery.
Fight over selfie?
Greek police told The Washington Post that the July 7 confrontation on the picturesque island of Zakynthos began around 3 a.m., when Henderson attempted to take a selfie with a waitress inside a bar in the tourist village of Laganas. The situation quickly escalated into a fight involving other customers and two bar employees.
One of the suspects, a 33-year-old Serb, got in an argument with the waitress over the selfie and hit Henderson, who then smashed a beer bottle on the other customer’s table, Greek police spokesman Theodore Chronopoulos told the Post.
Unidentified authorities in Athens told The New York Times that their investigation and witness accounts suggested the dispute centered around a waitress, but made no mention of a selfie. The Times report added that Henderson and his friends were attempting to leave the bar, but the suspects followed them out and attacked them in the middle of the busy street.
Another account, citing local Greek media, reported that the trouble began after Henderson set two beers on a table occupied by the Serbs.
Caught on camera
Ten to 15 men chased Henderson outside the bar and immediately caught him. One man tackled Henderson and threw him against a parked car. Others then joined in the assault. Some attempted to stop the beating, and eventually did, but not before Henderson sustained the head injuries that would cost him his life.
The incident unfolded in just 30 seconds, Chronopoulos said.
Warning: Video below contains disturbing footage
Henderson’s friends and family have questioned the police’s account, saying he was driven but not quick to anger.
“He just stood out,” said Sondra Johnson, whose son grew up with Henderson. “He was a very determined person.”
Meanwhile, Serbian media reported that the two Serbs released on bail returned to their homes in southern Serbia. One of them, 22-year-old Nenad Jovanovic, told B92 television that he and the other man weren’t involved in the fight.
“I am happy to be home,” Jovanovic said, adding that they were “at the wrong place at the wrong time.”
“I saw big chaos, pushing around, nothing else,” he added.
A rising star
Henderson’s trip to the tourist-friendly island was part celebration of his recent graduation from the University of Arizona and part business. He had long dreamed of starting his own clothing line. The cliffs, beaches and clear waters of Zakynthos would provide the backdrop for the photo shoot that was supposed to help launch it.
It was a jarring end to a life that left many people in Austin deeply impressed by his determination.
Friends, mentors, coaches, classmates and neighbors remembered Henderson as an ambitious young man who could have been anything. He was a standout basketball player in high school, a college student who interned in both the Texas House and Senate at the same time, and a young professional attempting to start his dream business.
“He was very driven, definitely very interested in being a success, very smart and very popular,” Denise Davis, a former chief of staff to House Speaker Joe Straus, told the American-Statesman this week. “I always wondered how he managed to be an athlete and be so bright academically.”
In a Facebook post, Henderson’s friend Daniel Brown said that his new life motto is “BLB,” or “Be Like Bakari.”
“I’ll tell myself that every morning as a constant reminder to stay humble, pursue my dreams and never get rattled by the little things life has to throw my way,” Brown wrote.
The support for Henderson’s family from the community has been financial as well. One GoFundMe page set up to help cover the costs of bringing Bakari’s body back to the United States and his funeral has raised nearly $70,000 as of Friday afternoon. The State Department doesn’t have funds to help families of U.S. citizens who die abroad bring their bodies home.
A second GoFundMe page, established to help cover possible legal expenses in Greece, has raised almost $28,000.
In 2011, the fatal stabbing of a British tourist on the same Greek island, Zakynthos, brought both emotional and financial hardship to the parents of the teenager, according to the U.K. newspaper Basingstoke Gazette. The parents of the 18-year-old, Robert Sebbage, told the BBC that the years of court cases that followed cost the family thousands of dollars that they would “be working forever to pay for.”
Reporting contributed by The Associated Press, The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Los Angeles Times