Firefighter down: Friends mourn 'good ole country boy'
The last time Howard Sisk saw his son, Walker, was the evening of November 7. Walker had been on duty the night before at the Seminole Trail Volunteer Fire Department and had run a bunch of late calls, including a couple of people in cardiac arrest who couldn't be saved.
"That bummed him out," says his father. "He had a headache and said he was tired. He put on shorts, and I thought he was staying home."
That wasn't in the cards for the gregarious Walker. A couple of buddies from the fire department came by and persuaded Walker to go out for a couple of beers.
"He hemmed and hawed and decided to go," recounts Howard Sisk. "He gave me a couple of high fives, and said, 'I love you,'" before walking out of his parents' Free Union house.
Walker's evening would have been unremarkable for a 22-year-old out with pals on the Corner, had he not allegedly crossed paths with third-year UVA student Andrew Robert Alston.
Alston, 21, is accused of stabbing Walker multiple times around 2am November 8 on 14th Street.
The two men were not acquainted, and friends and family are still trying to understand what led to the fatal encounter.
If there's anything his father worried about, it was Walker's passion for firefighting. "I worried about him every time he walked out the door," says Howard Sisk. "But he was going to do it because he wanted to do it, and he was well trained."
Walker had wanted to be a firefighter since he was a child. "He had a little fire hat," his father recalls.
After spending last summer working as a guide in Skagway, Alaska, Walker had made two decisions: to go back to Alaska, and to pursue firefighting professionally.
"He had a new life plan," says Carrie Keyser, who graduated with Walker from Western Albemarle High School in 1999, and who admits she had "the biggest crush on him" in the ninth grade.
She describes Walker as "a good ole country boy" who could make friends with anyone. "Walker was a wild child," she adds. "I was so impressed he spent time volunteering and taking off to Alaska, that he would up and do something because he was that confident."
"He wasn't afraid to do anything," says his father. "He wanted to see the world." Back from his summer in Alaska, Walker was already trying to bankroll himself to get back there next spring.
His interest in Alaska came from his father, who grew up there, and from his grandfather, who lived there before it was a state.
"He was just starting to have a direction," says Howard. "He goes across country to live in the wilderness... I was just starting to see him take hold."
On a drizzly November 12, over 450 friends jammed into Emmanuel Episcopal Church in Greenwood. "The minister said he'd never seen anything like it," the elder Sisk says.
Best friend Dustin Medley eulogized Walker at the packed church. "He was absolutely the funniest person on earth," says Medley. "He was Hollywood material."
Medley thinks the number of mourners says a lot about Walker and his ability to make friends. "It was hard to be mad at Walker," he says. "He was outgoing and had a big aura around him. He made friends everywhere he went."
That's what makes it even harder to understand how a well-liked "country boy" and volunteer like Walker would end up stabbed to death by a UVA student he didn't even know.
Medley says of Alston, "I don't know anything about the guy except he was a third year, and he killed my best friend."
Howard Sisk doesn't even know the name of the man accused of killing his only child. "He destroyed our lives and our family, and he destroyed his family," he says.
"Let's say he was killed in a fire or in a car accident," says Sisk. "You could get your mind around that. This was a senseless, mindless thing to happen."
Andrew R. Alston is from Gwynedd, Pennsylvania, where his father, Robert A. Alston, is an attorney and sits on the Lower Gwynedd township's board of supervisors.
Charged with second-degree murder, Alston remains in the Charlottesville-Albemarle Regional Jail without bond.
He's scheduled to appear in court November 21 on misdemeanor assault and battery charges for allegedly punching an ex-girlfriend in the face September 7 when she tried to leave a party.
And no one has been able to explain why the UVA student would set out on a Saturday night with a five-inch knife in his pocket.
Alston's neighbor, Erica Schaul, told the Progress of seeing him with the blade earlier that evening. "He took it out for no reason. It was sitting in his hand. It just sketched me out. It was a big knife," Schaul said.
And James Reinhold, who was out with Walker that night, described Alston to the Progress as having "some kind of blank stare in his face."
"I just hope this doesn't turn into something you can buy your way out of," says Medley.
Howard Sisk prefers to dwell on the positive aspects of his adventurous son's life, and the overwhelming support he's gotten from the community, particularly from Walker's friends and fellow firefighters.
"We were proud he volunteered at the fire department and went to Alaska," says Sisk. "There are people who never get a chance to do what they want to do."
Walker Sisk on the way to Skagway, Alaska, where he'd met a girl and planned to return next spring.
PHOTO COURTESY SISK FAMILY