When Oldham County High School Principal Natalie Brown attended her first wrestling event, the school’s coach, Max Emerson, sent her a message that same night.
It was a simple gesture thanking Brown for attending the meet and emphasizing how much he appreciated the support. The fact he sent the note struck Brown, who described Emerson, also a social studies teacher at the school outside of Louisville, Kentucky, as a kind soul.
Now, in the days since Emerson was shot and killed on Catholic University’s campus while visiting D.C., Brown said the tight-knit community is in mourning and shock. Emerson was a graduate of the school where he eventually returned to teach, and was a standout wrestler, once emerging as the state champion.
Brown described Emerson as beloved by students.
“He was very close with our wrestlers,” Brown said. “Some of our kids who were a little bit more squirrelly at times were always eager to listen to how Mr. Emerson would kind of direct them and guide them. He was able to make connections with those kids, and help them make better decisions.”
Brown first learned that Emerson had been killed after a parent sent her a message wondering if it was the same Max Emerson who worked at Oldham County. Emerson, 25, was in D.C. with family for a Library of Congress workshop for teachers. He was shot and killed on Catholic University’s campus on the morning of July 5.
Jaime Macedo, 22, was arrested on a charge of first-degree murder while armed. Police recently detailed what happened in the minutes leading up to the shooting, and described the encounter as an attempted robbery.
Emerson, Brown said, applied for the D.C. seminar and had been accepted.
“It says a lot about his passion for education and his determination to grow as a teacher and a young teacher, a leader,” she said.
In the classroom, Brown said, Emerson was an advocate for all students, and he was a teacher who kids would regularly be talking to in the hallway.
Another coach organized a vigil for the school’s wrestling team after Emerson’s death. Both kids and parents attended. Emerson’s dad came, Brown said, “and spoke with the kids, just [to] encourage them to keep fighting and to keep trying to achieve their dreams, and [that] Max wouldn’t want their sadness to allow them to give up on anything, that they needed to work harder.”
In the wrestling room, the school painted Emerson’s signature phrase, “champions find a way,” on the wall. The school has also sold over 800 shirts with the phrase on it, raising over $4,000 that will be donated to Emerson’s family. School leaders are planning to wear the shirts to an annual summer parade.
“Our teachers are having a tough time dealing just with the shock and the loss of a friend and a colleague,” Brown said. “What we’re trying to do is take our grief and turn it into positive actions and behaviors, ways that we can support the family and connect, bond together as a community.”
The school has informed families of resources available for their students, and plans to continue to offer similar resources when school resumes. The school also has a social-emotional learning curriculum, Brown said, which she anticipates will be useful “to make sure that we provide structures and support for our students as they navigate through the grieving process.”
“He is going to be greatly missed in our school and in our community,” Brown said.