Though he was gifted and had a promising career to look forward to, he never saw himself as being better than anyone else.
He would often talk to homeless people while waiting to board a light rail train. It wasn’t uncommon that he would buy them a sandwich or a cup of coffee.
On the night he was shot to death he was targeted by five young strangers.
“It was a hate crime,” said his mother Cyndi Gelston-Graham. “They attacked him because he was white and it looked like he had money. If they would have given him half a chance he probably would have given them his money.”
Although no formal charges have been brought, five black youths have been under suspicion since shortly after the crime.
The shooting happened on Nov. 6, 2009, a day in which Graham had taken a bus to Boulder to find a house to rent with three friends while attending graduate school.
Upon his return, Graham was captured on a security camera at the light-rail station at County Line Road and Interstate 25. It was 11:40 p.m. He didn’t have a car and was going to walk less than a mile to his home.
At some point, Graham was surrounded.
“I can only imagine that his last moments were horrific,” Gelston-Graham said.
His body was found at about 5:30 a.m. the next morning lying in the front yard of a home on the 8700 block of East Phillips Place in Centennial by a homeowner awakened by his barking dogs.
When her son didn’t return home that night, Gelston-Graham was worried. Then she heard that a man who had been shot in the back nearby had left a green duffel bag behind. She knew it was her son. The next day, Nov. 7, was her birthday.
An autopsy by Dr. Mike Dobersen determined that a bullet penetrated his chest and abdomen, Denver Post reporter Howard Pankratz reported several days later.
It didn’t take long before the investigation pointed to five suspects including a 16-year-old sheriff’s investigators believe shot Graham.
The shooting involved suspects who were involved in a series of assaults in Denver in 2009 in which groups of young black people randomly attacked whites mostly in LoDo in Denver.
Investigators have a good idea who is responsible, but the case is complicated by the suspects’ blaming of each other, Gelston-Graham said.
“I don’t want them dead,” she said. “I just want them to admit what they did and pay their debt. I want them to learn from this.”
Her son wasn’t to blame for whatever misery the five who attacked him experienced, Gelston-Graham said.
He was a caring person who walked to the beat of his own drum, she said. He would meditate while running long distance. He loved animals and hiking in the mountains.
A friend of his told her he was a Renaissance man who people gravitated to. And the black belt in Thai Kwon Do, who loved listening to Jazz and Blues, was a superb “mamabird,” or ultimate frisbee player on a team at CU.
Andrew earned his nickname “Stitches” when he collided head to head with a teammate nicknamed “Rabbit” at practice. Both ended up in the emergency room to get sewn up. Andrew received 32 stitches and Rabbit has a scar on his forehead. She says he thinks of Stitches every time he looks in the mirror, Gelston-Graham says.
The team wears Andrew’s number on the sleeves of their uniforms and retired the number 55. It wasn’t the only school remembrance. The Colorado Civil Engineering Graduate Scholarship Fund was named in his honor. He was a popular student with a calming and humorous influence on others.
“He was so wickedly funny,” Gelston-Graham said.
Andrew also had his life mapped out.
“He wanted to find a girlfriend, settle down and have a life,” his mother said.
He loved to explore. When he was on his way to Dubai he had stopped along the way in London, where he spent the day walking from museums to historic spots.
“He was such a good kid. I was so proud to have him as a son,” Gelston-Graham said. “They just took so much from him.”
On Nov. 5, two years after the confrontation that led to Graham’s death began, a candle-light walk will be held at Willow Creek Clubhouse II, 8500 Mineral Dr., at 6 p.m.