Valdosta Daily Times

Local News

August 18, 2013

Fatal Attraction: Georgia man’s love of Montana ends in tragedy


-- — “I have no doubts that my move to Montana has given most people that know me pause, as it is as strange and desolate place to them as the wilds of Denali ... Having never been to this frontier, this place of natural beauty and little human interaction, one would be easily mislead into believing that all that awaits me here are the twin specters of loneliness and (possibly) death.” – Austin Parker blog, July 3.

Meeting Austin

Austin Parker grew up in a classic south Georgia family in Valdosta, a town of 54,518 at the last census. The oldest of three boys, Parker graduated from Lowndes High School in 2008 and attended Georgia Tech before transferring to Cornell.

“My middle son got an athletic grant from Cornell, so I kind of negotiated a 2-for-1 deal,” Steve, Austin Parker’s father, said on the phone — sitting in his air-conditioned car and attempting to escape the suffocating summer south Georgia heat — after dropping one of his sons off at football practice.

Austin Parker majored in applied economics and management and graduated from Cornell in December 2012. In March 2013, he clinched a job as a manager-in-training with SecurAmerica LLC, a large private security firm.

He answered an online ad for a guest-room rental in Atlanta. Shortly after, he moved to the house, which belonged to Craig Mendel, a 37-year-old commercial real estate agent and Parker’s roommate during his four-month tenure.

“He was the kind of person that struck me as ‘beyond his years,’” Mendel said. “He was very thoughtful — he thought on a different level than most 23-year-olds.”

 During his tenure with SecurAmerica, Parker was like any other bright, aspiring businessman.

“He would come home and make spreadsheets and charts, thinking of ways to make the company better,” Steve Parker said.

Ron Hall, a SecurAmerica human relations manager at the company’s corporate offices in Atlanta, and who served as Parker’s mentor during his time with the company, said he quickly realized Parker was “smart as a whip.”

“He’s very knowledgeable and action oriented,” Hall said. “He’s a go-getter. A very smart kid. When he got into a project, he might be at the office until anywhere from 7 to 9:30 at night. He’s fresh out of college, and he wanted to fix the world. He taught me more than I taught him.”

After a while, Parker realized the corporate world wasn’t for him.

“He’d come home from the office, and he’d be like, ‘I can do this, I can do that,’ and I’d be like, ‘Wait your turn,’ but he wouldn’t want to. His reaction was ‘Why? Why do I need to wait — why can’t it happen now?’ In a sense, he was very impatient to make his mark,” Mendel said.

“He knew what he wanted to do and who he wanted to be, in the context that it wasn’t in Atlanta,” Mendel added.

According to Steve, when Parker announced his resignation, company CEO Frank Argenbright Jr., a legendary entrepreneur who founded the company — which serves Fortune 500 Companies all over the world — in 2005, “tried his best to keep Austin from resigning.” Still, Parker insisted. On his last day of employment, Argenbright called the company heads together and had Parker pitch his ideas on how to strengthen the company.

“That’s the kind of kid he was,” Steve said.

After saying goodbye to Atlanta, Parker made the three-and-a-half- hour drive in Molly back to Valdosta before embarking on his journey to Montana.

“He had a job, he had a place to live, all lined out,” Mendel said.

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