published Wednesday, August 7th, 2013

Lee University student found dead in parking lot

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    A Lee University sign on campus.
    Photo by Dan McLaughlin

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CLEVELAND, Tenn. — Josh Messer got a call Monday from his mother, Georgia Hindman, but he could barely understand her. Whatever she was trying to say, she couldn’t get past the first word.

“Johnathon,” Messer remembers her saying, over and over.

Eventually, Messer’s grandmother managed to get the message across.

That morning, someone found Josh’s big brother, Johnathon Earl Messer, in a parking lot at a Lee University housing unit. He was in his car, dead.

He would have turned 22 next Tuesday.

Investigators don’t yet know why Messer died, Cleveland police spokeswoman Evie West said. They are waiting for results from autopsy and toxicology reports. They don’t know whether there was foul play, she said.

Cleveland native

Messer was born and raised in Cleveland, and he graduated from Bradley Central High School in 2010. He studied psychology at Lee. He wanted to be a marriage and family therapist.

Some family members heard that Messer went to a party at Carroll Court Apartments on Sunday night and was too drunk to drive home, so his friends carried him to his car, where he passed out. His brother said he doesn’t believe that story.

“He did not drink,” Josh Messer, 20, said Tuesday. “Ask anyone who knew him. He just didn’t. So I don’t think it was alcohol poisoning or anything like that.”

Johnathon Messer was the second-youngest among three sisters and three brothers. Josh Messer was the youngest. He remembers he and Johnathon pretending to be “Dragonball Z” characters in their backyard when they were kids.

As they got older, their interest shifted to wrestling. Johnathon Messer’s favorite character was Edge, and he and Josh sometimes filmed themselves wrestling on a 2-inch-thick mattress.

Their father, Johnny Messer, would bring the boys to shows. Sometimes they went to small events with local wrestlers. And — when they had a chance — they would drive to Chattanooga and watch tapings of “WWE Monday Night Raw.”

Competing brothers

More recently, Josh Messer said, he and his brother lifted weights together at home. They liked to compete, seeing which one of them could bench press and curl more weight.

Johnny Messer said his son was health conscious. He drank mostly tea, water and soy milk, and he never smoked.

His grandmother, Joann Messer, said Johnathon was a strong Christian. He read his Bible in the morning and at night. About a year ago, he gave her a King James version. Bible verses and quotes from pastors and Christian musicians fill his Facebook page.

His most recent update, on Saturday, was a picture with an inspirational message.

“Take chances,” it reads, “you only live once … .”

Contact Tyler Jett at tjett@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6476.

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