ASHLAND, Ore. -- Ashland Public Schools responded this week to the death of 19-year-old Aidan Ellison, who police say was shot and killed by 47-year-old Robert Paul Keegan on November 23.
Ellison's death has provoked attention and outrage from groups at both the local and state level. According to police, Ellison — a young Black man who lost his workplace when the Almeda Fire burned down the Burger King in Ashland — was confronted by Keegan outside of the Stratford Inn because the 47-year-old was irritated by the volume of Ellison's music.
During the argument, Keegan allegedly produced a handgun and shot Ellison in the chest. Ellison died at the scene.
Keegan made his first appearance in court last week, entering an initial plea of not guilty to four counts, including Second Degree Murder. He is being held without bail.
Ellison was a former student of Ashland High School, and administrators at Ashland Public Schools addressed his death to families of the district on Monday. Superintendent Samuel Bogdanove also confirmed that Keegan spent time as a volunteer within the district, though there is no indication that he and Ellison knew one another.
Ashland High School Principal Benjamin Bell released the following statement:
Hello AHS Family,
The news of the murder of our former student, Aidan Ellison, has been difficult for us all to hear. The fact that he was a young black man makes it all the worse. Our hearts go out to those that knew Aidan personally, to his educators that supported him, to his friends that miss him and to his family that had him taken away far too soon. Even though Aidan was a student here several years ago, he was still connected with current students. We will have counselors ready to support those that are having difficulty dealing with this loss. Students, please see our list of counselors below and their school phone numbers in case you need to reach out for support.
We do not know all the facts of the case but want to make clear that at AHS we condemn racism in all its forms. We are intentional in our efforts to build a fully inclusive community. We stand ready to serve and support our community through this difficult time.
Superintendent Bogdanove also responded with a statement:
Students, families and members of the Ashland School Community,
Our hearts ache over the senseless death on November 23rd of a Grizzly, Aidan Ellison. Aidan attended AHS for a brief time and made a lasting impression among those who knew him. Our thoughts are with Aiden’s family. We grieve with his mother, Andrea, and brother, Anders. Anders also attended AHS.
While the details of the investigation into this incident are not public, many members of the school community are struggling to reconcile how this happened with their direct experiences of the individuals involved. Both the victim and the man charged with the shooting have ties to our school community.
The killing of any 19-year-old is a particular tragedy. The fact that Aidan was a young Black man adds even greater heartache to an open wound in our community and country. As families and people who care for our kids, we are challenged to help them make sense of a situation where none can be made. As individuals that recognize and/or experience the effects of racism, bias and systemic injustice, we must continue to ask the difficult and necessary questions. We must work to heal our collective path and move together towards a just future for all. Ashland School District remains committed to this future.
The man charged with the shooting was a volunteer at one of our schools. All of our volunteers go through comprehensive background checks based on their driver’s license and social security number. When there is an indicator of concern in a volunteer background check, the eligibility to volunteer is reviewed by administration and the opportunity to volunteer may be denied.
We are providing supports and resources to our students and staff at the school sites directly affected. Below are some resources for parents to talk about this incident with your children including coping with tragedy, racism and bias. If this tragic event directly affected your child and you need additional guidance on supporting them, please reach out to your school principal or counselor.
"To be clear, Aidan was murdered because he was a young Black person who made a white man uncomfortable and refused to submit to that man’s personally-perceived authority — not because he was listening to music too loudly," the Southern Oregon Black Leaders, Activists, and Community Coalition (SOBLACC) said in a statement issued last week. "Aidan’s murder isn’t a Black problem, but a community problem. Ashland, and all of Southern Oregon has a problem with racism, and the only way to address this problem is to demand stronger policies that protect Black lives and more severe consequences for anti-Black racism."
The Oregon chapters of Moms Demand Action and Students Demand Action also released a statement last week, decrying Ellison's killing.
“We’re horrified,” said Amie Wexler, a volunteer with Oregon Moms Demand Action. “Aidan Ellison should be alive today. Instead, another family is in mourning, and the country is learning the name of yet another Black teenager who didn’t get the chance to grow up. This is a tragic reminder of how urgently we must work to prevent gun violence, fight systemic racism and build a safer future.”