Webb and Dick Haymaker

Each Other’s Arms

Two families on two continents search for meaning in the wreckage of a heart-wrenching homicide.

When Hurricane Andrew slammed into the Gulf Coast in mid-August 1992, Webb Haymaker ’98 was lying in a Baton Rouge intensive care unit with a broken neck. And his parents, Dick Haymaker ’61, a theoretical physicist, and Holley Galland Haymaker, a prominent physician, were stuck at home agonizing over whether their 16-year-old son would ever walk again.

Webb had been playing Marco Polo with a group of high school boys in the family’s swimming pool and accidentally dove into a shallow spot. One of those boys, Yoshihiro Hattori—known to all as Yoshi—was from Nagoya, Japan. Just 10 days before, he’d arrived to spend the pending school year living with the Haymakers—their third foreign exchange student in five years.

“It was the fall from hell,” Holley remembers, sipping a cup of tea in the family’s dining room. She didn’t know it then, but things were about to get a little bit better before becoming unimaginably worse.

Yoshihiro HattoriYoshihiro Hattori

By the time Hurricane Andrew made its way to the capital city, 60 miles northwest of New Orleans, it had been downgraded to a tropical storm. The rain-soaked winds were formidable and tornadoes touched down nearby, but the area suffered minimal damage. Ten days later, Webb came home from the hospital, psychologically shaken by his ordeal but, thanks to a tibial bone graft, well on his way to a full physical recovery.

Yoshihiro HattoriYoshihiro Hattori

Yoshi’s presence also seemed like a small miracle. Unlike Webb—who, like his father, is a self-described introvert—the lithe, handsome rugby player, away from home for the first time, was ebullient. “This was a kid who just wanted to eat life alive,” Holley says.

Yoshihiro HattoriYoshihiro Hattori

Enrolled in East Baton Rouge’s first program for gifted students, Webb took Yoshi under his wing at McKinley Senior High School. The two bonded immediately and Yoshi was quickly accepted by their peers. “I remember going to the first Parents’ Day,” says Dick. “And as they read out the students’ names, they wanted all the parents to identify themselves. When they introduced the name Yoshi and I raised my hand, everybody turned to look at me. They’d already heard so many wonderful stories about him.”

In late September, Holley took the boys to a local blues festival, and she reminisces that “it took Yoshi no time whatsoever to spot a Japanese girl, start a conversation, and get invited to a Halloween party in Central, Louisiana.”

And so, on the evening of October 17, Webb and Yoshi lit out for Central, a predominantly white, working-class town 25 minutes from Baton Rouge. Dick and Holley, happy to have a rare evening alone, went to see The Last of the Mohicans at a local theater.

In Dedication

In October Dick Haymaker ’61 plans to travel to Northfield to headline a dedication ceremony for Carleton’s new science center, which is named after his late mother, pioneering physiologist and biochemist Evelyn M. Anderson ’21.

Celebrated for codiscovering the cause of Cushing’s disease, which results from elevated cortisol levels, Anderson taught at the University of California–Berkeley and worked at a number of prestigious research organizations, including the National Institutes of Health and NASA. Along the way, she managed to raise three children and dote on eight grandchildren. “My mom focused on being fair. That really made an impression on me,” Haymaker says. “I can’t wait to come back to campus and honor her brilliance and her passion for Carleton.”

Anderson’s passion influenced five generations of Carls from the same family tree, including Dick’s sisters Ingrid Becher ’59 and Evelyn Dolven ’60, niece Anne Becher ’87 and nephew Ben Dolven’87, and great niece Flora Richey ’18. They all plan on attending the celebration of Evelyn M. Anderson Hall with Dick, his wife, Holley Galland Haymaker, and their son, Webb Haymaker ’98 (who is named after his paternal grandfather).

The visit will also mark the first time Dick Haymaker has been on campus since he established two endowed scholarships designed to honor exchange student Yoshi Hattori (see main story) and to celebrate the importance of international study, which both Dick and Holly believe is essential to a well-rounded liberal arts education. The Yoshihiro Hattori Memorial Scholarship provides financial aid to students from Japan. The Yoshihiro Hattori Memorial Fund for Off-Campus Study is available for those who plan to study in Japan.

“Study abroad is a central part of Carleton’s mission and I wanted to support that and encourage students to explore the world,” Dick says. “I also want them to know Yoshi’s story. I want them to know that Yoshi was a member of the Carleton family.”

Webb, tasked with driving to the party, was still wearing a neck brace and wrapped a bandage around his head to complete a makeshift Halloween costume. Yoshi, who had thrown himself into a jazz dance class at McKinley, dressed like his hero, John Travolta, in Saturday Night Fever. “It was such an appropriate costume,” says Dick, remembering the white tuxedo coat and ruffled shirt. “I will never forget how Yoshi moved through space. He would walk so gracefully, almost dancing through the house.”

The boys found their way to a house with Halloween decorations, three cars in the driveway, and the address 10311. They were supposed to go to 10131, just five doors away. Webb and Yoshi knocked on the front door, but no one answered. A woman, later identified as Bonnie Peairs, came to the side door and then slammed it shut. Somewhat confused, but rightly assuming they had the wrong house, Yoshi and Webb began to walk away. Then the side door swung open again. This time Rodney Peairs, a 30-year-old supermarket butcher, was standing in the entryway with a legally owned .44 caliber Smith & Wesson pistol, loaded and equipped with an eight-inch hunting barrel.

Yoshi, perhaps thinking the weapon was part of a costume, excitedly headed back to the house saying, “We’re here for the party! We’re here for the party!” Webb shouted for him to come back. Peairs—who would later say he and his wife were terrified—yelled freeze. Yoshi kept coming, smiling wide, and, his English limited, likely not understanding the command.

Peairs fired and hit Yoshi in the chest.

Webb rushed to his friend—who he remembers was “crying and moaning, but still awake”—then ran to the neighbors’ house for help. An ambulance arrived and put Yoshi on a stretcher, his jacket and shirt sopping red. Thirty minutes later the police drove Webb to a nearby substation. Peairs, who had no prior offenses, was briefly questioned and left with his wife and infant daughter, the officers on the scene having concluded that the shooting was an act of self-defense.

On the way home from their date night, the Haymakers were discussing how happy they were that the country was no longer as violent as it was during the French and Indian War, graphically reenacted in the film they’d just seen. Holley’s work pager went off and they pulled over to find a phone.

“A voice on the other end of the line told me, ‘You need to come to the Central substation, there’s been a terrible accident,’ ” recalls Holley. “I said, ‘Really?’ They said, ‘Yes, your son is okay, but the other boy (and they garbled his name) is very hurt.’ I said, ‘Well, then we should meet you at the hospital.’ And then he told me that wouldn’t be necessary.

“So we go to the substation and we find that they’ve left Webb all alone in this big old room with harsh lighting. And he said, ‘Mom, what happens when somebody’s shot in the chest?’ I said, ‘Well, sometimes they live, often they die. And Yoshi died.’

“Webb’s first response was to put his head in hands and say, ‘His poor mother.’ ”

Two days later, Yoshi’s parents arrived from Japan to retrieve their son’s body. Holley and Dick remember feeling a mix of anguish and dread. Masa and Mieko Hattori had entrusted them with their son’s safety, after all. What would the Hattoris say? How could they possibly respond? Upon meeting the Haymakers for the first time, though, Yoshi’s mother simply embraced Holley and said, “How is Webb?”

It was a moment of unspeakable grace, says Steve Crump, then reverend and now minister emeritus of the Unitarian Church of Baton Rouge, where the Haymakers still attend services.

What followed in the months and years after the standing-room-only memorial service, after the satellite news trucks left Baton Rouge, and after Yoshi’s death joined Hurricane Andrew as one of the year’s most memorable stories, was, in Crump’s view, nothing short of transformative.

“There are so many levels to this story,” says Crump. “But for me it is a story about how, when good people with good intentions find themselves confronted with tragedy, they sometimes respond by looking for opportunities to make a difference. It’s about how, while trying to make that difference, you find ways to grow and heal.”

Dick Haymaker ’61Dick Haymaker ’61 Photo: Edmund D. Fountain

Dick Haymaker is the first person to say that the last place he expected to find himself at age 53 was in the Oval Office, meeting with a freshman president and pushing for gun control legislation.

It’s not that conversing with Bill Clinton intimidated the scholar. A full professor at Louisiana State University, he’d already collaborated with some of the greatest minds of any generation as a visiting scientist at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, the KEK National Laboratory—which operates the largest particle physics laboratory in Japan—and the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research in Mumbai, India. It’s that activism and all that it entails didn’t square with his academically ascetic lifestyle.

“Dick is incredibly cerebral,” says Joshua Horwitz, who was on Capitol Hill when the Haymakers met with Clinton and is now executive director of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence. “He’s a theoretical physicist, after all. That means he thinks about physics. But here’s the thing: even though he tends to get in his head and he’s not a small talk kind of guy, when he gets excited about something, he transforms into a people person. He just glows.”

Dick’s commitment to addressing gun violence, which consumed him for nearly two years, began immediately after the Hattoris returned to Japan from Baton Rouge. Mieko, a Buddhist, had a vivid dream on the plane ride home in which Yoshi told her she should compose a petition urging Americans to remove guns from their households. “We must confess we almost wished we could shoot the chest of the person who killed Yoshi and say [it] was done by mistake, but [that would be] a shameful thing to do,” Mieko wrote in a letter of thanks to Crump for Yoshi’s memorial service. “It is the American law permitting private ownership of guns at home we despise. We love America, so I want American society to be worth our respect and admiration.”

Dick decided that while the Hattoris collected signatures in Japan, where gun ownership is all but prohibited and shooting deaths remain extremely rare, he would circulate a similar petition in the United States, calling on the president to “reassess the easy availability of guns in this country and, in so doing, help end the senseless death of Americans and foreign visitors which threatens the very fabric of our democratic society.”

The Hattoris and Haymakers began corresponding frequently. Dick bought a fax machine and went about building a network. He began by contacting his and Holley’s vast web of friends, colleagues, and influential alumni (Holley attended Smith, Columbia, Cornell, Louisiana State University, and Tulane). He also sent a letter to every Unitarian church in North America.

In the United States, activism is typically associated with marches, rallies, and acts of civil disobedience. Petitions have always been part of the landscape but not considered particularly powerful, especially because of the media’s affinity for spectacle. In Japan, however, where street demonstrations are less frequent, petitions are a constitutional right and considered an invaluable political tool. And, in both countries, the details of Yoshi’s death (which for millions of Japanese people is still known as “the Freeze Case”) created a media storm that could be leveraged for attention.

“It was a very big story in the United States,” Horwitz says. “We were in the midst of a high rise in shooting deaths at the time, especially in black and brown communities. But this shooting broke the mold. This happened to an academic family hosting an exchange student who knocked on the wrong door. And then this white homeowner was too quick to fire because of his fear of the unknown.”

Dozens of major metropolitan dailies ran stories about the shooting. Ronald Ridenhour, who worked with Seymour Hersh to unearth the My Lai massacre in the early seventies, wrote a feature for People. Family Circle published a piece that reached six million homes and generated a record number of letters to the publication. The Haymakers still have copies of them in a two-inch-thick binder. Cartoonist Garry Trudeau penned a week’s worth of Doonesbury comic strips venerating Yoshi and skewering America’s lax gun laws. Dick appeared on numerous public radio stations and every network morning show. And that’s just a small sampling of the coverage in the United States, which was dwarfed by the reportage in Japan.

In July 1993 President Clinton called the Hattoris to offer condolences for their son’s death. That November, Mieko, Masa, Dick, Holley, and Webb visited the White House to present their petitions in person. The Hattoris had collected 1.7 million Japanese signatures; the Haymakers had 150,000 signatures.

Today, when a celebrity can get millions of “likes” for posting an emoji, 150,000 signatures may not seem substantial. Horwitz is quick to point out, though, that petitions—circulated then by mail or, more often, by hand—carried a different sort of weight, physically and symbolically. “Online petitions are meaningful, but digital transmission has taken away the advocacy. Now, petitions are typically used to collect email addresses,” he explains. “In those days, we weren’t sending out electronic newsletters every week. The distance was real. As a result, it was really hard to organize in the States. Dick’s petition was pivotal to our growth and reach.”

On November 30, 1993, Congress passed the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act, which mandated background checks and a five-day waiting period on all civilian arms purchases. The following summer, Clinton signed the federal Assault Weapons Ban, which put a 10-year moratorium on the manufacture of certain semiautomatic guns.

While Dick and Holley are reluctant to take credit, Horowitz insists that the Hattoris and the Haymakers played a seminal role in the passage of both bills.

One of the domestic and foreign television programs that covered the aftermath of Yoshi’s death was Justice Files, a vehicle produced by the Discovery Channel that relied on eyewitness interviews and academic analysts to mine real crime stories for larger meaning. In the episode, which aired in 1993 (the show ran until 2005), Harvard law professor Arthur R. Miller explains that ancient English common law dictated that firing a gun in self-defense was justifiable only if the threatened person could not retreat. And that the idea of “standing one’s ground” is a “uniquely American concept.”

An early version of the standing ground argument was central in the defense of Rodney Peairs, who was brought up on manslaughter charges after Louisiana governor Edwin Edwards and the Japanese consul general in New Orleans pushed back at local police. The trial, which took place in May 1993, lasted a week and was, according to the BBC, “a media circus.” The jury deliberated three hours before delivering a verdict of not guilty. The packed courtroom reportedly erupted in cheers.

The Haymakers and Mieko Hattori, who had traveled back to Baton Rouge to attend the deliberations, were out for a walk when the decision was announced. Hearing the news outside the courtroom, Dick says he went into a state of shock. Webb, who had testified at length, remembers feeling equal parts numb and quietly frustrated. He says that Peairs’s attorneys inaccurately made Yoshi out to be a foul-mouthed menace, and that the district attorney not only hadn’t prepared Webb well for his testimony, but also failed to emphasize the issue of race.

Webb Haymaker ’98Webb Haymaker ’98 Photo: Edmund D. Fountain

On the outside, Webb, who was still a teenager during the trial, appeared dispassionate, which was consistent with his behavior in the wake of the shooting, something that had concerned both his parents. “I remember that night, on the drive home from the police station, I told him, ‘Webb, this is not your fault,’ ” Dick says. “He had this air of It’s no big deal. I’ll get over it. Just forget about it. We went to a psychologist once and he nervously said ‘I’ll get over it’ and that was it.”

Privately, Webb was upset that people didn’t think he was upset enough. “I was a 16-year-old boy,” he says now. “I wasn’t really into my emotions. I just didn’t think about it. I didn’t know how to process my feelings.”

In the fall of 1994—after a senior trip to Japan, which included a town hall meeting on gun control—Webb left home to attend Carleton. Shortly after classes began, though, he had to return to Baton Rouge to testify in a civil action against Rodney Peairs. This time around, the plaintiff ’s attorneys emphasized that Yoshi’s skin color played a role in the shooting and reminded the court that when Bonnie Peairs was pressed on the issue in the criminal trial, she tellingly testified that “I guess he appeared Oriental. He could have been Mexican or whatever.”

Unmoved by claims that Yoshi was moving erratically and threateningly, the presiding civil court judge concluded that there was “no justification that a killing was necessary for Rodney Peairs to save himself” and that if Yoshi were from the United States, he would have been seen as “an all-American boy.” The judge ruled that the defendant was liable to the Hattoris for $650,000 in damages. (Ultimately, the Hattoris received only $100,000 from the Peairs’ insurance company, which they used to establish a charitable fund in Yoshi’s name.) “I was really happy after the verdict,” Webb remembers. “But then, like a half hour later, I was just flooded with grief.”

Webb took his stirred-up emotions back to campus. Keenly interested in writing, he took a short-story class taught by English professor Gregory Smith and penned a three-part tale inspired by that fateful night in Central, Louisiana. “That’s the way I finally began to really process what had happened,” Webb says.

Meanwhile, Peairs appealed the civil judgment, first to the Louisiana Court of Appeals, which upheld the decision, and then to the Supreme Court of Louisiana, which refused to hear the case. Whenever he was interviewed by the press, Peairs would insist that he had had no choice but to pull the trigger, and that if he had known then what he knew now, Yoshi’s mother and father would still have a son.

In the Justice Files episode on the case, host Jay Schadler revealed that “even after the trauma of Yoshi’s death, the Peairs still kept several guns in their home.”

The Unitarian Church of Baton Rouge serves as a monument to Yoshi. On a corner wall across from the congregation’s communal kitchen there are two paintings of the young man, one a realistic sketch, the other a mystical evocation of the divine. There’s also a candid portrait and a plaque to let visitors know that church members gave cherry blossom trees and magnolia trees to McKinley High School and to Asahigaoka High School in Nagoya, where Yoshi would have spent his senior year.

Outside the sanctuary, framing one side of the parking lot, a green space features two large metamorphic rocks shipped from a Japanese quarry that were dedicated as “peace stones” by the church in 1996. On an overcast, damp day in early March, the boulders appear forlorn, the grass around them is brown, and the tree branches overhead are leafless. Yet their bulk and black veneer still evoke a spirit of perseverance. “We honored Yoshi as our own son, because he came here to live in our family,” says Reverend Crump.

Dick stepped away from organizing in the early 2000s and retired from LSU not long after. Insatiably curious about the world around him, he argues politics online with members of his Carleton class and spends time in his woodworking shop. Holley, who adamantly maintains that she is not politically savvy (“I don’t have a brain for policy”), works as a health consultant for the public schools and serves her church on a variety of committees. Webb works as a psychotherapist in New Orleans. He and his wife had their first child on Christmas Day. (“He’s head over heels,” Grandpa exclaims.)

Both Holley and Dick say they will always consider Yoshi to be their son and they think of the Hattoris as an extended family. To those who haven’t been face-to-face with the Haymakers, this might seem over the top or, considering the media savvy of all involved, contrived. It is anything but. Too wise to be saccharine, they simply welcome life’s unpredictable rhythms with open eyes and arms.

“We’re not the hysterical type,” Holley says before showing off her favorite coffee cup, featuring a quote from Barack Obama: “The best way to not feel hopeless is to get up and do something!”

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