I was cleaning my basement last weekend when I found the program from Simeon’s memorial service. It was in a pile of ephemera: friends’ wedding invitations, tickets to Nets games from 2001-2002, photos of my driveway after the 1996 blizzard, a Volkswagen postcard, the brochures for a Lorenzo Mattotti exhibition in Milan and a religious painting exhibition in Bergamo. Virtual memories.
The program isn’t much: an 8.5″ x 11″ sheet, folded into four pages, a color photo of Simeon printed a little blurrily on the front. It reads:
Memorial Service for Simeon Georgiev Popov
May 5, 1974 – January 20, 2002
“I someday hope to be part of the largest orchestra so that I can share my love and compassion for music with others.”
Simeon came from Bulgaria to study music (trombone) as a graduate student at Syracuse University. Bill Harris, the uncle of my girlfriend at the time, took him under his wing. I met Simeon at a Thanksgiving dinner, since “the kid” (three years younger than me) had become part of the family. He was a little shy, very pleasant, had wonderful manners, and his English was a lot better than that of the last Bulgarian I’d met. He was good company.
In January 2002, Simeon walked in on an armed robbery in an off-campus apartment. He was delivering an order of chicken wings for his night-job. He thought the robbery was a joke, and tried to leave the room to make his next delivery. The robber tried to shoot him, but the gun jammed. They scuffled, and the robber fired again, shooting Simeon in the face and killing him.
So much in life hinges upon accidents, and who we are depends on what we make of them. We walk into each other’s worlds without a clue, sometimes walking right out again, “the moment” lost. Sometimes those accidents are cataclysmic. We could build a chronology of how and why Simeon walked into that room, and lament all the choices that could have been made, all the decisions and accidents, little and big, that could have kept him from being murdered. None of them would bring him or his music back.
The murderer’s name is Dominic Dennard, Jr. He liked to go by the nickname “D Murder.” For his crimes, he’s been sentenced to 75-to-life in state prison. At his sentencing, the judge said, “None of us now will ever know what beauty Simeon Popov might have created in this world. We will never know whether he might have been the next Bach or the next Beethoven. You snuffed out his talents and creativity, and you left this world a darker place as a result of it. My only regret this morning, Mr. Dennard, is that I cannot sentence you to life without the possibility of parole.” According to the NY prison system’s site, “D Murder” won’t be eligible for parole until 2067.
The lawyer for “D Murder” said, “Dominic Dennard is one of the most courteous, gracious, pleasant people I ever represented. It is irreconcilable with the person you’re about to sentence.”
Simeon’s parents left a letter for Bill to read after the sentencing and, even though it’s the saddest possible sentiment I could post on Mother’s Day, I’m going to share it with you:
“We remain on this earth, parents, who are neither alive nor dead, who have nothing left. Our home is now turned to dust, and the most sacred place in the world that we can call our home is our child’s grave. We live in pain and die little by little every day.”
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SU started a scholarship fund in Simeon’s memory. The fund’s original purpose was threefold: to purchase basic equipment (like instrument stands) for the Music Academy Pancho Vladigerov in Sofia, Bulgaria; to provide a new instrument as an award to a promising young trombonist at a competition at the Music Academy; and to sponsor an annual prize to a graduating student at Setnor School.
Bill Harris and his wife Karen headed back to Bulgaria about a year ago for the music competition. Their first trip was to bring Simeon’s body back to his parents. I haven’t found out if the competition was a one-time event; a school rep wrote to tell me that the fund is devoted to providing assistance to music students at SU, but I’m not sure if that’s the sole use now.
If you’d like to donate to the scholarship fund, you can send a check to Angela LaFrance, 820 Comstock Ave., Womens Bldg., Syracuse University, Syracuse, NY 13244. Make sure you note on the memo portion of your check: “Simeon Popov’s Memorial Scholarship Fund.”