The parents of Trumbull native Kevin Sutherland — faced this week with the loss of their child and emerging details of the brutal July 4 attack that claimed his life — recalled the sensitive, successful young man who was living in a city he loved and had “landed in exactly what he wanted to do,” according to his father.
The murder of Kevin Sutherland in Washington, D.C., last Saturday has sent shock waves through the community and well beyond. The 24-year-old was stabbed to death on a Metro train during a violent midday robbery attempt. He had been on his way to Philadelphia for a July 4 celebration, his parents said. The suspect, Jasper Spires, 18, allegedly tried to steal Kevin’s cellphone. Spires, who was reportedly captured on surveillance footage and left behind a bag near the scene of the crime with an identification card in it, has been charged with Kevin’s murder and remains in prison for his next court date, after being arrested Monday. Read the The Washington Post’s latest on the crime, here.
While the news coverage surrounding the vicious attack has touched on Kevin’s love of politics and public service — including an internship he had with U.S. Congressman Jim Himes — there is much more to know about Kevin, according to his parents, Doug and Theresa Sutherland.
At their Trumbull home this week, his parents explain his early talent for computers, how he was sensitive to others’ pain and tragedy, and had a gift for photography — capturing breathtaking scenes in the nation’s Capitol.
Terry and Doug Sutherland are also learning new things about their son this week, most notably that his reach went farther than they could have imagined.
“It seems like almost everybody that ever met him fell in love with him,” Doug Sutherland said through tears, “and we didn’t know that.”
Doug recalled a time when discussion came up that his son had about 700 “friends” on Facebook and a family member joked that no one can really have 700 friends.
“Well, I think my son really had 700 friends,” Doug Sutherland said, referring to the outpouring of love on social media and beyond. “It’s an amazing thing to learn.”
The Sutherland family was tight knit. Kevin was their only child. They spoke multiple times a day and Kevin was always sending his dad links to news stories he might find interesting.
“Even though he wasn’t in Trumbull anymore, it didn’t seem like he was that far away,” Doug said.
Theresa and Doug are still dealing with the grief of losing Kevin and the impending criminal case against the teen charged with the murder. On Tuesday, they received a call from the prosecutor’s office in D.C., updating them on the case against Spires. Doug said they were relieved to hear there is strong evidence linking Spires to the crime. According to both parents, it’s impossible to make sense of the attack.
“As a parent you are trained to try to fix your kid’s problem and help them any way you can but we weren’t there and it’s over now,” Doug said.
Theresa and Doug reflected on happier times, and how much their son had been able to accomplish in 24 years.
Kevin’s parents are both computer engineers, and their son took quite naturally to computers as a child, but branching out from anything his parents had done or worked with before. They said he mastered an operating system at age 13, and did so well with it that he began working on a help desk with people in Poland and Russia.
“I would say to Terry, ‘I wonder if anyone understands that Kevin is 13,’” Doug said.
“He did it entirely on his own,” Theresa said.
In 2006, Doug Sutherland started to get more involved in politics and took his son with him door-to-door to help collect signatures for Ned Lamont. Doug said his son, like himself, was somewhat shy and the experience was good for both of them. Doug has since become an active Trumbull Democrat.
After Kevin got the “political bug” he met Jim Himes and began working on his campaign at age 15.
“He started working at Jim’s office in Bridgeport and he didn’t even have a driver’s license at this point,” Doug said. “He was walking around neighborhoods all day and he would make phone calls.”
He would work on every Himes campaign until he went off to college, where he later interned at Himes’s Washington office.
In high school, Kevin was on the school’s We the People team. His parents say he fell in love with Washington, D.C., when he went there on a trip with the Congressional Youth Leadership Council.
That would influence his decision to attend American University, where he served as Student Government secretary for two years. After college, he had a job working for The Lone Star Project, a political research organization that works to get Democrats elected in Texas.
Last April he began work at New Blue Interactive, which his father described as working with politicians to help with constituent outreach, related to fund raising. Kevin loved the job and was working with six to eight clients, including congressmen in Hawaii, California and Maryland.
“It seemed like he had really just landed in exactly what he wanted to do,” Doug said.
Theresa recalled how caring Kevin was toward other people’s pain and how it affected him. She can remember how strongly he felt about the tragedy at Sandy Hook and most recently, the church shooting in Charleston, S.C.
“He was caring and sensitive and he really cared enough that he wanted to make the world a better place,” Theresa said.
“I don’t think he was ambitious to be a politician moving up the ladder,” his father added. “I don’t know where his career would have taken him.”
Kevin, like his father, was living with Charcot-Marie Tooth disease (CMT), a rare neuromuscular disease. It is an inherited disorder that affects peripheral nerves, which are outside the brain and spinal cord. Theresa and Doug say the disease hadn’t begun to seriously affect Kevin yet, though it was something they worried about. Now, in lieu of flowers, they are asking family and friends to donate to the Charcot-Marie-Tooth Association at http://www.cmtausa.org/url/kevin.
“It hadn’t affected him a whole lot yet but it’s a progressive thing,” Doug said. “We hope that we will now still help other people, even though we don’t have to worry about Kevin.”
The couple said the outpouring of love in the community and desire to do something in Kevin’s honor has been amazing.
“It’s overwhelming and very much appreciated and it has lifted us up,” Doug said.
Still, the family said they want to wait, lay their son to rest, and not rush anything yet.
“We are going to try to do something to keep his legacy alive,” Doug said. “It may take the form of a scholarship or more than that. It may be creating a foundation that would advocate for things Kevin believed in or focus on the violence that took his life.”
The suspect charged with murdering Kevin had been arrested a few days before the attack, when police said he accosted a man and later kicked two officers as they tried to handcuff him, according to The Washington Post. Police had forwarded to prosecutors charges that included felony robbery, but because nothing was taken, the U.S. attorney’s office said there was insufficient evidence to support the charge, the newspaper reported. Prosecutors instead charged Spires with misdemeanor assault, and he was freed from custody on Friday.
“We might focus on why the criminal justice system isn’t working,” Doug said. “We have thousands locked up for minor drug offenses and we let out the guy who assaulted somebody and the next day murders my son.”