Derek Hayden was a computer whiz. He was an expert skateboarder. He hated being in the spotlight. And he was widely loved.
This is how Hayden’s friends and family said they would remember the 44-year-old at a virtual vigil Friday night, about three weeks after he was shot and killed by two Seattle police officers near the downtown waterfront. Police have said Hayden was holding a knife and experiencing a mental-health crisis when they responded.
The Friday night vigil was hosted by the Black Student Union at Seattle University, where Hayden was a graduate student studying computer science. While the vigil was underway online, community members stopped by the reflecting pool at the university’s Chapel of St. Ignatius to light a candle and say a prayer for him.
Many speakers Friday voiced the need for more awareness around mental-health resources.
“It just really highlights the fact of how the system doesn’t always work right,” said Jason Trammell, Hayden’s cousin. “I wish there were some warning signs or something that could have been done to end it differently. I think as a society we need to keep up with other ideas.”
Trammell said he’s struggling to understand what happened the night of Feb. 16.
“Whatever he was going through, it wasn’t public knowledge or something he expressed to his family,” he said. “It seems crazy to me that throughout all of this … that no one ever saw any signs.”
Officers were called to the waterfront around 9:20 p.m. after receiving a call from a Port of Seattle police officer, who said a man was walking with a knife near Alaskan Way and Seneca Street, according to audio of the 911 call.
The Port officer told the Seattle police dispatcher that the man — later identified as Hayden — had cut himself and appeared to be suicidal.
The Port of Seattle Police Department has said Port officers tried to use a less lethal 40 mm device that shoots foam-tipped projectiles before Seattle police arrived, but it was not effective.
When Seattle police arrived, they spotted Hayden and yelled at him to stop walking while pointing a gun at him, officers’ body-camera footage, released to the public, showed. Hayden, who was still carrying the knife, continued coming toward the officers while urging them to kill him.
A few seconds later, the video shows officers firing at Hayden. He died at the scene.
The officers involved have been placed on administrative leave while the city’s Office of Police Accountability and the Seattle Police Department’s Force Investigation Team look into the shooting.
The Police Department didn’t respond to a request for comment Friday.
Hayden was born in California, then moved to Sequim with his younger sister to live with their aunt, uncle and cousins after their mother died. Hayden was in middle school at the time. He wasn’t close with his father, who died last month of COVID-19, Trammell said.
“He was one of those kids growing up where … whatever they do, they do it really well,” his cousin said, adding that Hayden was like an older brother to him growing up. “I always wanted to do what he was doing because he always made it look so cool.”
Trammell remembers tagging along while Hayden dived into skateboarding, biking, rollerblading, climbing — “any adrenaline-type activities,” he said. Recently, he had become an active mountain biker and outdoorsman, Trammell said.
After graduating high school, Hayden moved around a lot, mostly between Oregon and Washington.
“Definitely what you would consider a free spirit,” said Trammell, who now lives in Shoreline.
After getting his bachelor’s degree in Oregon, Hayden moved back to Sequim, where he helped with some freelance web design for a car-audio company.
He was always known as a tech expert who loved to learn, said Alan Burns, one of Hayden’s friends since childhood.
“He’s just a really smart dude,” Burns said. “We’re in our 40s now, and he’s still going (to school).”
A few years after returning to Sequim, Hayden moved to Seattle.
That’s when Trammell, who had begun pursuing his MBA at Seattle University, encouraged him to apply for the school’s graduate program in software programming and computer science.
“He was all in,” Trammell said. “It was going to be his ticket to having that very technical degree. … I always envisioned we were going to build this nonprofit together.”
He also liked to be involved in his community, Trammell said. Last summer, he said, Hayden would help feed people at CHOP (the Capitol Hill Occupied Protest) during the protests against George Floyd’s death and police brutality. He also volunteered at a local food bank.
He seemed to be doing well, with the exception of the occasional school stress, Trammell said.
“That’s the hardest part for me,” he said. “To understand whatever pain he was in. And likely I never will.”
During the virtual vigil Friday night, he told the community he would continue to be an advocate for those who were experiencing crises.
“All you can hope is that the next person doesn’t have to go through what we’ve gone through,” Trammell said.