Originally created 10/10/00

Police identify man



AIKEN - The West Columbia teen whose body was dumped along a roadside was a freshman at the University of South Carolina Aiken, authorities said Monday.

Jason Cook, 18, graduated from Airport High School in West Columbia this year and moved to Aiken in the summer to begin college. He lived alone in an apartment on York Street.

While Aiken County authorities continue investigating his death, USC Aiken officials are trying to coordinate a memorial service and comfort students who knew Mr. Cook. A black student group is helping to plan the service, and a campus group called the Voices of Praise will sing. A time and date for the service has not been set.

"We do feel this is a tragedy for both his family and for our campus community, and we are planning a memorial service for later this week," USC Aiken spokeswoman Deidre Martin said. "We are also making counseling services available, especially for students, but for anyone in the campus community who needs to talk about this."

Aiken County authorities say they hope Mr. Cook's ties to the campus can help them piece together the mystery that started Friday morning when a bus driver discovered the teen shot to death in a dirt driveway on Horseshoe Bend Road near South Carolina Highway 19 in Aiken. Authorities later realized that a 1993 Dodge torched earlier that morning on Arbutus Hill Road was registered to the victim's father, Robert Cook.

The elder Mr. Cook drove to Aiken last weekend and met with Aiken County Coroner Sue Townsend. He and his wife, Diane Furtick Cook, are trying to make sense of their son's slaying, the coroner said.

"They are devastated," Mrs. Townsend said. "They expected their kid to go to college and contribute to society and be a good citizen. We're all trying to figure out what happened."

The teen's death has shocked the West Columbia community where he grew up and where his parents live. One neighbor, Tim Johnson, 24, knew the teen well and described him as a "real good kid."

"I don't understand how somebody could do that to him," Mr. Johnson said. "Maybe he was offering somebody a ride or something. He was a good-hearted fellow. Maybe somebody took advantage of him. I don't know."

Roy Watts Jr., an older neighbor, said Mr. Cook was one of the better young adults in the neighborhood. Mr. Watts watched the Cook family load up the car every Sunday and head to church, where the father was a deacon.

"(Jason) never gave anybody trouble," Mr. Watts said. "He was on the right track."

The teen had played basketball at Airport High School, and Principal Randy Counts recalled him as a hard worker. Mr. Counts found out about his former student's killing Monday.

"I am just speechless. That is unreal," he said. "He was the kind of student that every teacher would want in their classroom. At Airport High School, there were 1,400 students, and, gosh, if we had had 500 like him, it would have been a lot easier job. He was very easygoing, but had a great work ethic at the same time."

Authorities are asking anyone with information about the crime to call the Aiken County Sheriff's Office at (803) 642-1761 or (800) 922-3211. Individuals also can call Aiken County Crime Stoppers at (803) 642-1798. Callers can remain anonymous and are eligible for a cash reward of up to $1,000.

Funeral services are scheduled for 2 p.m Wednesday in the Greater St. Luke Baptist Church, 5228 Farrow Road, Columbia. Burial will be in Lincoln Cemetery, 4900 Farrow Road, Columbia. Mr. Cook will be placed in the church at noon Wednesday for viewing.

Leevy's Funeral Home, Taylor Street, Columbia, is in charge of arrangements.

Reach Greg Rickabaugh at (803) 279-6895.