Fred has a stereo in his office, and as he works at his desk, he likes to listen to classical music or jazz. "What is that?" he sometimes quizzes his players. Most of them sit in weary silence until he gives the answer. But Shannon always identified the music as well as the performer. "Coach, that's Rostropovich playing a piece by Franz Liszt."
Then one day Shannon invited the vonAppens to visit Kauai over Easter. "I can show you things there you haven't seen before," he promised.
The medical examiner found a contusion on Shannon's head, and eventually a theory about his death emerged: Fighting to return to the surface for air, he swam into a rock wall. The blow prevented him from saving himself, but because it knocked him unconscious, he died without the violence and pain generally associated with drowning.
Such a scenario comforted the Smith family, as did the notion that Shannon died a hero, UH FOOTBALL PLAYER DROWNS AFTER RESCUING COACH'S SON, said a front-page article in The Honolulu Advertiser. A similar headline ran in the city's Star-Bulletin. To some of those who were at Slippery Slide that day, however, the emphasis on Shannon as a hero invited closer review. By ignoring dangerous water conditions and entering the cauldronlike pool, he had made a grave error of judgment and jeopardized not only his life but also the lives of four other people. His story, they believed, described a cautionary tale about the destructive power of nature rather than a moralistic one about a young man who sacrificed his life for a fellow human being. No one doubted, however, that Shannon had made a brave choice at the end.
"We're damned lucky it wasn't a multiple drowning—real lucky," says Winston Welborn, one of the firefighters who answered the police dispatcher's call to rush to Slippery Slide. "But I do think that what he did was heroic, saving the boy's life. What he did was noble and selfless. Think, though, if Shannon had lived and Cody had drowned."
In Hawaii the storm of attention paid to Shannon quickly lifted him beyond mere hero status. Many locals say he was an angel, while others call him a saint. Several of his friends, fuzzy on the details of his death but certain of his greatness, have vowed to name their children after him. A scholarship fund was established at Hawaii in his honor, and in August the university dedicated its new football locker room to his memory.
As reports of his magnanimity continue to circulate, a kind of worshipful hysteria flourishes on Kauai. In circles close to the Smiths, Shannon is all but deified. "Something far greater than death has happened here," says Rosemary. "Shannon seems to be trying to tell us that he died for a message. My hairdresser said Shannon is a legend, like Abraham Lincoln; then he said Shannon was like Jesus Christ. Jesus died to give us a message, and [the hairdresser] says Shannon did too."
Rosemary points to a journal Shannon kept during his senior year of high school as proof of the depth of his thinking. One entry reads, "Treacherous waters are extremely crazy and unpredictable. You will always see treacherous waters on a cloudy, stormy day. Or if you saw treacherous waters on a river it would be right before a waterfall or right after a waterfall." Does the notation suggest a foreboding? Or does it show that at age 17, Shannon already knew not to challenge a place like Slippery Slide after a storm? Racked with grief, his mother and others see it as a testament to his almost visionary powers.
"My mom is having a difficult time letting go," says her eldest son, Christopher, 34. "When Jennifer died, that was a big blow, and I guess now losing Shannon has just been too much."
To many people who knew Shannon, it is more than his memory that lives on. To them Shannon himself lives, though in altered states. As Norbert snored away inside their home one night this summer, Rosemary saw Shannon as a star in the sky. In this she was not alone. Winners' Camp participants claimed to have seen the same star, and so did two teenage boys at a Hindu monastery in the hills near Kapaa. "My friend and I were searching the sky for UFOs," says one of the boys, Devasiva, 16, "when all of a sudden we saw this star acting strangely. It was circling around. It would disappear and then come back a couple of seconds later."