This story was updated Thursday, Oct. 3, 2019, at 8:20 p.m. with more information.
The community is in mourning after the shooting death of Clayton Mason, 25, in Chattanooga on Tuesday night.
Friends, coworkers and those who loved him describe Mason as "a wonderful soul" who was dedicated to helping his neighbors, passionate about education and hoped to improve his community.
Born and raised in Chattanooga, Mason graduated from The Howard School. He was a drum major in the Hustlin' Tigers Marching Band and was a participant in a student leadership development program.
Mason went on to attend Morehouse College, worked at Orchard Knob Middle School, worked with the GEAR UP program housed at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and, most recently, at Baylor School. He even spent a year teaching overseas in Indonesia.
Adara Joiner, an English teacher at Soddy-Daisy High School, worked with Mason at Orchard Knob Middle School in 2016, when they were both first-year teachers.
"Clay was really such a wonderful guy. He always spoke out for what was right, even if it meant that he'd be in hot water with [administrators] later and was a very hard worker," Joiner said in an email. "This is honestly such a tragedy because he was trying to improve our community and spread his passion for education."
Joiner said Mason was able to relate to so many of his students because he knew them personally.
"When they would try to talk back or be defiant towards him, he would say things like, "Settle down, baby boy. Y'all know I used to change your diaper," which would always lighten an otherwise tense situation," Joiner added.
Even as a student himself, Mason reached out to younger students.
In 2011, when Mason was a senior, he let a 7-year-old student from Calvin Donaldson Elementary School help him direct the marching band. Kameron Reed would shadow Mason, a drum major, and imitate everything that Mason would do including the dramatic back bends and theatrics that are part of a show band's style.
Hunter Huckabay, the program director for GEAR UP, knew Mason for years — first as a student and then as a staff member. GEAR UP is a college-access program that helps connect inner-city youth with mentors and works with students from the time they are in sixth grade until their first year in college.
Huckabay remembers a serious, driven boy who grew into a man who was always willing to step in and help those who came after him. Mason would serve on panels for the next generation of GEAR UP students and helped arrange visits to Morehouse College in Atlanta, while Mason was a student there.
"It's a big loss to the community as a whole. He was a leader now [and] he was going to be a future superstar," Huckabay said. "It really is a story that says a lot about what we lose when that type of violence happens in a community."
Paul Whetstone, an English teacher at Sale Creek Middle/High School, echoed Huckabay's sentiments.
"When a beloved teacher gets killed it shocks the community to the core," he said in an email.
When Whetstone worked at Orchard Knob Middle School, he coached track, and he said Mason would often come back and visit his former athletes and attend their practices late into the night.
"He would come to our track meets to watch his former students even after he had gone on to teach at another school," Whetstone said in an email. "He was [a] wonderful soul who dedicated his life to serving the community he came from. Of all the people this could have happened to, he was a force for good who was trying to do everything he could to prevent people in his neighborhood from falling into the trap of gang violence."
Mason was an activist for his community, said his friend and local community activist Marie Mott. She said they would meet at The Spot, a local cafe on East Main Street, and talk for hours. He always loved the strawberry milkshakes.
They would talk about investing in education, his experiences in Indonesia and possibly running for Chattanooga City Council one day.
Mott said Mason had an affinity for English literature.
"He would always encourage children to read, because he — we — believed reading sets you free," she said.
"That man lived a full life. Sometimes people twice his age having done even half the things he's done and done it with integrity," Mott added. "He loved his family. First and foremost above everything. He loved God and he loved his family. And he truly anted to shift the dynamics of the community he came from. He understood that he had jumped over the hurdles that so many others couldn't. He was our very hope."
Derelle Roshell, a student at Tennessee State University, said Mason had an "old soul."
"He definitely had an old soul, he'd tell us old stories and tell us old sayings that his Granny would say. He was just out there chasing his dreams," Roshell said.
When asked what he thought Mason's dreams were, Roshell it was to leave an impact through education.
"His dream was to impact his community through teaching," Roshell said. "A lot of our teachers poured into us in our lives and it motivated us to give that back. A lot of us were focused on leaving big legacies that were bigger than us."
Mason had recently been working at Baylor as an evening library supervisor, interacting with the school's boarding students who would come to study after-hours.
Barbara Kennedy, spokeswoman for the school, said he had only been working at the school since August, but students already knew him well. Administration addressed the students Wednesday afternoon and shared the news.
"Baylor headmaster Scott Wilson shared the news with Baylor faculty and staff Wednesday afternoon stating that Clayton was a well-loved and respected member of the school community," Kennedy said in a statement. "There are really no words that can adequately reflect our sorrow and shock in such a moment."
Chattanooga police identified Mason as the victim of a shooting Tuesday night. Police responded to a call in the 180 block of North Sweetbriar Avenue and found a 32-year-old man with injuries sustained from a gunshot.
Soon after, police learned about a vehicle parked in the 100 block of North Tuxedo Avenue, according to a news release. Inside the vehicle, they found Mason, dead from a gunshot wound.
Investigators say both men were injured in the same shooting.
No suspect information has been provided and the investigation is ongoing.
A 2017 Times Free Press story said that Mason himself had lost one of his best friends to gun violence. Robert "Juicy" Jackson was shot six times in a nightclub parking lot on Lee Highway.
Jackson's mother Renee Jackson said the boys were in fifth grade together at at East Lake Elementary School.
Jackson would sit with friend Mason every day after school, reading and helping him understand what he was read. He set Mason on the path that led to him teaching English at Orchard Knob Middle School.
Memorial or funeral service information is not available at this time.
Contact Meghan Mangrum at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6592. Follow her on Twitter @memangrum.