Douglas and Theresa Sutherland do not want their son Kevin’s life of hope and optimism to be lost in a sea of headlines about his violent death.
As the one-year anniversary of his slaying approaches, they have chosen to share a little bit of the joy he brought to them, his extended family and his friends. The family has arranged for a public display of photographs taken by Sutherland that highlight how much he loved the District, his adopted city.
“It’s important that people see the beauty that surrounds us can be captured, not just for a moment, but forever,” said Sutherland’s mother.
Added his father: “I think it would put a smile on his face.”
The installation is at the NoMa-Gallaudet Metro stop, near where Kevin Sutherland was fatally stabbed on a train. It features images Sutherland captured during his years here as a college student at American University. Sutherland, like many young people who come to Washington, was passionate about politics. After graduation he worked at New Blue Interactive, a digital strategy firm focused on helping Democratic candidates. In his off time, he loved to roam with his camera.
The display is part of Metro’s Art in Transit program, which seeks to enliven Metro stations with public art installations.
The photos include images of the Washington Monument against a backdrop of Fourth of July fireworks. There is one of the U.S. Capitol, which Theresa Sutherland said was her son’s favorite building. Also included among the photos: a black-and-white shot that features the iconic honeycomb ceilings distinctive to the District’s Metro stations.
“He loved the Metro,” Douglas Sutherland said. He can still remember the three images of the Metro system that hung in the bedroom of his son’s Washington apartment.
“I’m an engineer — we both loved the Metro, the idea of being able to jump on the Metro and get anywhere you want. I still find the Metro interesting, but I can’t, I can’t go in it anymore” without thinking of Kevin.
Sutherland, 24, was riding a Red Line Metro train on his way to meet friends July 4 last year. As the train approached the NoMa-Gallaudet station, he was stabbed to death by a man who had allegedly tried to grab his phone.
The crime, which unfolded in view of dozens of terrified passengers, was shocking for its brazenness and brutality.
The alleged assailant, Jasper Spires, 19, faces eight charges including first-degree murder in connection with Sutherland’s killing. If convicted, Spires could be sentenced to life in prison. He is also charged with robbing two others on the train, including a senior citizen. His next court appearance is scheduled for September.
Sutherland’s parents and friends try to focus not on how he died, but rather on how he lived.
To Brad Korten, the photo display means that a bit of his close friend lives on.
“It’s a piece of him that can bring joy and love to the people who see it,” said Korten, 25, who helped move the project forward. “I want to make sure his legacy and his spark still lives.”
Sutherland grew up in Connecticut and came to Washington in 2009 — a member of American University’s Class of 2013. He interned for Rep. Jim Himes (D-Conn.) on Capitol Hill and later graduated with an interdisciplinary degree in communication, government, law and economics. At the time of his death, he was working as a digital political strategist.
Douglas Sutherland said Jeff Wignall, a writer and professional photographer who lives not far from the family’s Connecticut home, reached out to the family via Facebook not long after news reports of Sutherland’s death. The two men, who had mutual friends, met for coffee, where Sutherland shared some of his son’s work. Wignall suggested the family create an exhibit that could be displayed at the Metro station.
“I didn’t think these photographs should fade into history,” he said.
His hope was that they would serve as a reminder to folks passing through the station that the world was robbed of a talented photographer.
Korten, who works on Capitol Hill, helped the family connect with the appropriate city offices, including that of D.C. Council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), who is also chairman of Metro’s board of directors.
The Metro photo display is one of many ways Kevin’s Sutherland’s family and friends are remembering him.
At American University, 20 of Sutherland’s photo canvases are displayed in the School of Public Affairs building in Ward Circle, along with a plaque in the lobby that notes his work as a two-term secretary for the university’s student government and his kindness and passion for liberal causes.
Student government officials also renamed their executive office the Kevin J. Sutherland Executive Office.
The family has launched a scholarship fund for American University students, and Kevin Sutherland’s former employer, New Blue Interactive, has created an internship fund that will provide stipends to students who take unpaid internships on the Hill. Douglas Sutherland said his son wanted those opportunities to be available to all students — not just those who could afford to take an unpaid internship. The family also has created the Kevin J. Sutherland Legacy Project.
This weekend, more than a dozen folks who were close to Kevin will gather with his mother and father for a quiet celebration of his life.
“That’s one of the really comforting things we’ve experienced over the last year,’’ Douglas Sutherland said. “We always thought Kevin was special, but it’s been a real comfort that other people felt that way. We knew he had a lot of friends but never knew how many lives he touched. We now have an expanded family of people in D.C.”
This story has been updated.