Who was Jayland Walker? 'He was the most sincere, most kindhearted person,' friend says

·7 min read
Jayland Walker, center, at a 2020 wrestling tournament he went to watch. He is shown with, from left, his former Buchtel wrestling coach Robert Hubbard and fellow alumni Jarren Watts and Blake Lewis, kneeling.
Jayland Walker, center, at a 2020 wrestling tournament he went to watch. He is shown with, from left, his former Buchtel wrestling coach Robert Hubbard and fellow alumni Jarren Watts and Blake Lewis, kneeling.

Jayland Walker was a quiet, peaceful, funny guy, said his friends and former assistant principal and wrestling coach at Buchtel high school.

Walker, 25, was killed by Akron police following a car chase that began in the city's North Hill neighborhood early June 27 and ended in Firestone Park. Police released body-camera video on Sunday that showed the pursuit and Walker being shot multiple times by eight officers.

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The news of Walker’s death has sparked days of protests with renewed calls for police reform.

Coach recalls Walker as 'the sweetest, most mannerable kid I've ever had'

Robert Hubbard was Walker's wrestling coach for four years and knew him since he was a young wrestler on an area youth team.

“He wasn’t what they were describing on those news stories ... no, that’s not the kid I know,” Hubbard said.

“I’ve been the coach at Buchtel since 2002. He’s one of the sweetest, most mannerable kids I’ve ever had," Hubbard said. "If you gave me a list of 100 kids that this would have happened to, he would have been 99th or 100th for me to guess.

"What they are describing is so out of character, which is why I understand why the family is asking for answers because that’s not Jayland Walker.

“He was a hard worker. Whatever I asked him to do, he would do,” Hubbard recalled. “I’d be surprised if he ever got a detention in school ... he just wasn’t one of those kids that misbehaved or anything — and I’ve had some of those kids that have tested me. Jayland Walker was not one of those kids.”

Walker was the City Series champ in his weight class of 160 pounds his senior year and made it through sectionals and was a district qualifier, said Hubbard.

Walker had a “phenomenal” double-leg takedown, an offensive move to get the opponent down on to the mat during wrestling, Hubbard said.

When Walker came out for wrestling his freshman year of high school, he had been in the youth wrestling program and “had the knowledge, but he had to work his way up," the coach recalled. "He didn’t have like the strength that everybody else had.”

“Even at 160, he was a tall, skinny 160,” Hubbard said.

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Hubbard last saw Walker in 2020 when Walker came to watch a wrestling match at Firestone High School. The coach took a photo with Walker and other wrestling alumni.

“I hadn’t seen him in a little while and to look at the picture, I’m thinking: ‘Could I have done something different? Did I give him the right guidance? Was there something else I could have done?’” Hubbard said, his voice choked with emotion.

“I’ve had different kids that have had successes and failures. I’ve been there a long time. I’ve had kids who have ended up on the wrong side of the law and then some actually serving the law,” Hubbard said. “I would have never thought this would be him. He was one of the sweetest kids I’ve ever coached.”

Hubbard said it “makes no sense” to him that Walker would lead police on a chase.

Hubbard said he has heard that Walker was having a rough time since his fiancee died last month in a car accident.

He also still was having a tough time coping with the death several years ago of his dad, Pete Walker, Hubbard said.

Walker’s father died in 2018. Hubbard did not know the exact cause of Pete Walker’s death, but said it was a medical condition and not a violent death.

Pete Walker had been one of Hubbard's wrestling coaches at Buchtel high school.

“Jayland took that kind of tough. I know," Hubbard said. "I took it kind of tough since he kind of mentored me as I was growing up."

Jayland Walker always had a smile

Norma James, who was an assistant principal at Buchtel from 2012 through 2015, then principal for one year before retiring from Akron Public Schools, said she remembers Walker for his politeness and his smile.

James said it was unusual for her to know the students who did not get in trouble because she was In charge of discipline. Walker never even had a tardy, she said.

"I used to see him every morning because he would smile at me," she said. "That smile, you were happy to see him because you knew there weren't any big problems anywhere he was."

Former teammates remember Walker

George Johnson and Tyler Cox on Sunday both remembered their former Buchtel high school wrestling teammate and friend as a funny, peaceful guy.

“He was just a really funny guy,”  said Johnson, 26. “I promise he could have been a comedian. I wanted him to be a comedian. That’s not what he wanted to do. He wanted to be a wrestler, like in the WWE (World Wresting Entertainment)."

Cox said he and Walker would often walk home from school and “have conversations about the future and what we had planned.” Cox said Walker had signed up for a WWE camp after high school.

“I’m like, ‘Man, there’s no way I can see him being a bad guy in any type of way in that scenario (the WWE),’” Cox said.

Walker had worked for Amazon and then took a job driving for DoorDash.

Walker and Cox were on the cross-country, wrestling and baseball teams together.

In 2014, Walker played in the Summit County All-Star baseball game held at Canal Park. Cox said Walker played a few different positions, including third base and in the outfield.

Jayland Walker, left, and his teammate and friend Tyler Cox at a high school wrestling tournament in 2014.
Jayland Walker, left, and his teammate and friend Tyler Cox at a high school wrestling tournament in 2014.

'He was a brother to me'

Cox said Walker, who was a year ahead of him in school, was more than a teammate.

“He was a brother to me,” said Cox, 25. “The wrestling team, it was like we all just became family. It was an inseparable bond. We just have so many moments together and so many experiences together. It’s just so crazy now to kind of see that he’s not here with us.”

Johnson said he and Walker were in contact for a few years after they graduated in 2014 and probably hadn’t talked since 2017.

Johnson, who now lives in Toledo and works for a painting company, said he is sad he hadn’t talked to Walker in recent years.

But Johnson said hearing that Walker may have shot a gun doesn’t make sense.

“Jayland would never get into anything like that. He never got in trouble,” Johnson said.

Cox said Walker “was a fairly good kid. He didn’t have problems with anything. If anything, he was really the peacemaker out of everybody. He would try his best to stop situations from happening and trying to make everybody happy.”

Jayland Walker, right,and Buchtel High School wrestling teammate Tyler Cox in 2014.
Jayland Walker, right,and Buchtel High School wrestling teammate Tyler Cox in 2014.

Cox, who still lives in Akron and waterproofs basements, hadn't seen Walker in a few years. But Cox said it doesn't make sense to him, either, that Walker fled from police.

Cox said regardless of whether a gun went off during the chase, “I still feel nobody deserves to get shot 60 times."

"That’s crazy," Cox said. "That’s overkill. I’ve talked to so many people and the way they put it was like ‘10 times, OK, you might be able to walk away. 20 times, you’re definitely dead and you’re bleeding out. More than that? That’s excessive. Thirty times? That’s excessive. Sixty times? That's overkill. That's insane. Nobody deserves that.

“I want people to know that Jayland was definitely not a violent person. He was the most sincere, most kindhearted person you could ever hope to meet,” Cox continued. “I genuinely looked up to Jayland when I was younger. He was someone to look up to.”

'He wouldn't want anything violent to go down'

Cox said he knows his friend would want everyone to stay calm and reasonable.

“He wouldn’t want anything violent to go down or anybody to do anything crazy or reckless on his behalf, " Cox said, "because that’s just not the person he was."

Beacon Journal staff reporter Betty Lin-Fisher can be reached at 330-996-3724 or blinfisher@thebeaconjournal.com. Follow her @blinfisherABJ on Twitter or www.facebook.com/BettyLinFisherABJ. To see her most recent stories and columns, go to www.tinyurl.com/bettylinfisher

This article originally appeared on Akron Beacon Journal: Jayland Walker was a 'most kindhearted person,' friend says