On Sept. 16, Austin Salyer’s life was tragically taken. He was a lifelong resident of Highland Village, Texas where he attended Highland Village Elementary School, Briarhill Middle School and Marcus High School.
On the night of Sept. 15, Austin texted his mom, Bonnie, for the last time. He let her know that he loved her and was going to sleep so he could be well rested for an early morning ROTC physical training session. The following morning, Bonnie had not heard from Austin, an unusual behavior for him, so she asked a friend to go check on him. When the friend arrived at Austin’s apartment, it was there that he found Austin, unresponsive. Upon the police’s arrival, it was established that Austin was deceased, resulting from the discharge of a firearm in a neighboring apartment; the bullet went through the wall, and struck Austin in his sleep.
There is reason to believe that, after being shot, Austin rose from his bed but collapsed just outside of his bedroom, unable to reach anyone for help. In his final moments, it is likely that Austin displayed immense bravery and strength, something he was known for throughout his entire life.
From the very beginning, Austin has been a symbol of resilience. Born on Dec. 21, 2000, Austin entered the world seven weeks premature. While a baby born that early would typically stay in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit for weeks, even months, Austin was strong enough to come home just four days later on Dec. 25, 2000: Christmas Day.
At 3 months old, Austin started attending Primrose School of Northeast Flower Mound and thus began his lifelong passion of making friends. Always with a compassionate and open heart, Austin thrived through connections. Whether it be his friends from Primrose to his teammates on various sports fields to his co-workers at Walgreens of Highland Village and Willie’s Grill and Icehouse in New Braunfels, Austin made an effort to truly see and talk to the people he interacted with on a daily basis.
During a shift at Willie’s, Austin noticed an elderly man, sitting alone in a booth outside of his own serving section. He could tell this gentleman was having a difficult day, so Austin went over and began to talk to him. Austin learned that the customer was a regular who sat at this booth every time he went to Willie’s. He was usually there with his wife, but she had recently passed, and the gentleman was missing her greatly. Austin took the time to listen to the man and be there for and with him, to help him through that tough day. It was that kind of empathetic behavior that drew people to Austin, no matter where he was or what he was doing. After just a single interaction with him, people could not help but want to be friends with Austin.
One of the most prevalent ways he made friends was through athletics. At just a few years old and attending various Gym Kids lessons, Austin’s fondness for sports flourished. His dad, Rodney, watched as Austin would dart back and forth on the soccer field, and it became abundantly clear that Austin had a knack for athleticism. When he was trying out for the Briarhill Middle School basketball team, Austin’s running speed and endurance caught the eye of the track coach. At the end of tryouts that day, the coach approached him and asked if Austin would be on the cross-country team. Even with no previous training or knowledge of the sport, Austin was in. Any opportunity to be on a team exhilarated him. Eager to start, he competed in his first meet the next day. Right before he walked up to the starting line, Austin turned to his dad and asked, “what exactly am I supposed to do?”, to which Rodney responded, “run, faster than everyone else!” It took Austin no time at all to get the hang of it. Before long, he started to shine. At each meet and tournament, he would see improvement, getting faster, stronger, and placing higher and higher.
Austin also excelled in flag football, soccer, tackle football, and basketball, but ultimately found his love in baseball. Although it came to him with ease, Austin never shied away from putting in the hard work to become better at the sport. It was not unusual to see him and his dad outside their house, from sunup to sundown, practicing pitch after pitch. Austin worked his way up, starting with recreational baseball, advancing into select, and then achieving his long-term goal of being on the Marcus High School baseball team. When he joined the high school team his freshman year as a pitcher, he felt at home. One of his shining moments was pitching a no-hitter against Hebron High School.
Seeing Austin on the pitcher’s mound, you saw him in one of his truest forms. After his sophomore season though, he needed shoulder surgery and had to step off the field to heal. During his time away from baseball, he found the Marcus High School Clay Target Team. Austin’s coach, Devin Barge, recalled how “it was undeniable that Austin had a natural talent, and his skill in baseball translated seamlessly into this new sport. His incredible drive, discipline, and work ethic brought him to the top of the team quickly. In addition to his ability, Austin was a tremendous contributor to the inclusive culture of the team, insisting everyone be a part of the fun when there was fun to be had (of course, Austin was often the source of such fun). On a team that has athletes from 6th grade to seniors, Austin found a way to help bring everyone together, both on and off the range. Coaches and athletes alike note, Austin made the team better, not only in a competitive sense, but he contributed to an improved team culture as well. Austin won individual awards, as well as being a contributing factor to the success of the team at state and national levels with the USA Youth Education in Shooting Sports organization.” Being a part of this team filled the void left by his absence from baseball. Austin had found a new home.
When the time came to start choosing which college to attend, Austin considered a handful of options, but felt that ‘home’ feeling with Texas State University. The community was instant family, the river through campus was an exciting adventure that harbored the potential of new sports, and he was proud to carry on the family legacy at his parents’ alma mater. Living in the dorms his freshman year, Austin hit his stride. He found a family with both his fraternity brothers and the ROTC, he excelled in the classroom as a 4.0 student the last two semesters, and he spent what little free time he had left working. Austin would call his mom, exclaiming “Mom, when I walk around my apartment complex, I hear all my friends saying ‘Hi, Austin,’ ‘Hey, Austin,’ ‘What’s up, Austin?’ It feels like I’m a celebrity!” He never met a stranger in San Marcos. Austin loved everything about the city and its people and would find any way to stay there as long as possible.
When COVID erupted and the university announced all students must move off campus and begin online schooling, Austin knew it was not his time to leave. After a quick phone call with his parents and twenty minutes of planning, Austin already had an apartment and roommate lined up. San Marcos was his new long-term home. There was even a point, the following summer, when Austin had a gap between the ending of one lease and the beginning of another, and rather than coming back to his parents’ home for two weeks, he made his temporary home with a family he had never met. Through all the moving and settling, there was always piece missing for Austin though: a pet.
Austin had a soft spot for animals. When he was younger, his mom would take him to Petland once a week and the two of them would spend hours playing with the puppies. In college, Austin frequently sent her pictures of animals – ones he saw in the shelters, on the street, his friends’ cats and dogs, but he knew with such a busy schedule, he could not commit the necessary attention to the needs of a young animal. However, Austin’s time became more flexible during COVID, and one random day, he sent his mom a picture of a kitten. Not an unusual text for her to receive, Austin’s mom responded “Aw, she’s precious. Whose is she?” to which he responded “Mine, of course! Her name is Luna!” From then on, the two of them became inseparable.
The longer Austin spent at Texas State University, the louder his calling to serve grew. He knew how much he loved his family, his friends, fraternity brothers, Luna, even strangers on the street, and he realized it was time to set forth on his path to protect and defend others. Austin joined the Texas State University Army ROTC in 2020 and recently completed Basic Camp. He planned to graduate from Texas State University in spring of 2023 with his major in criminal justice and a minor in military science. Upon graduation, he would commission and serve as an Infantry officer in the Army, before moving on to become a police officer, and then ultimately join an elite SWAT team. Austin was committed to dedicating his life to others. And in doing so, he was dedicated to truly making his home where his heart was, because home for Austin was not a single place.
Home for Austin was where his loved ones were. It was on the baseball field with his teammates. It was New Braunfels where he served customers who became friends at Willie’s Grill and Icehouse. It was at the range where his coaches taught and encouraged his passion for clay target shooting. It was Fort Knox where strangers became family and fellow battle buddies. It was at his apartment, playing endlessly with his cat, Luna. Home was Highland Village at his parents’ house where he learned how to walk, talk, and drive, where he spent his first and last summers and holidays with family and close friends. Home was not one place for Austin, but all the different places with the people who built him. And although these homes are now left with gaping voids which will never be filled, it is a part of Austin’s legacy to seek and savor our own homes.
While Austin’s time in this life was cut tragically short, this legacy will carry on for decades and generations to come. It is impossible to forget his contagious smile, gentle heart, and loyal attitude. To know Austin was to know what it meant to be home.
If you would like to make a donation to support veterans of the United States Armed Forces in Austin’s honor, please visit www.spiritofahero.org/austinsalyer.
The circumstances around this situation are still under investigation. Details or information provided in this article are subject to change based on new findings from the investigation.
Rebecca Silensky Echols
Highland Village, TX