Local News

Habitat house dedicated to memory of UNC student

Posted January 23, 2010 9:48 a.m. EST
Updated January 23, 2010 8:33 p.m. EST

— The family and fraternity brothers of a University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill student killed by police last August are helping to build a Habitat for Humanity house in his memory.

The parents of Courtland Benjamin Smith attended a groundbreaking ceremony Saturday. Smith, a 21-year-old from Houston, was president of the Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity at UNC.

"He was all about building for the future," father Pharr Smith said. "He was supportive, dedicated to his friends and family."

"We've lost one of our best friends," incoming fraternity president Davis Willingham said. "This is kind of a way  to cope with our grief in a constructive way. I think it will be positive for everyone."

Prosecutors have said Archdale police justifiably used deadly force after Smith hid his hands behind his back until suddenly showing a hand holding a black object. Smith had called a 911 dispatcher on Aug. 23, 2009, to say he was speeding, had been drinking, wanted to commit suicide and had a pistol in his back pocket.

Mother Susan Smith said the fraternity members and their parents gathered around her family during their grief.

"The support we've gotten from these guys and their parents, they really have gotten us through many a difficult day," she said.

Smith's parents said they got another moment of closure Friday when a judge ordered the officer's dash cam video sealed permanently.

"It allows us to concentrate on the positive now and move toward this construction process and start rebuilding with the boys," Pharr Smith said.

The Habitat for Humanity house at 104 Gracie Court will become the new home for two UNC employees, Lion and Zar Ree Wei, and their six children.

The house, which was expected to cost $75,000, should be completed in May. Bank of America contributed $25,000 of the money needed, with the fraternity raising more than $35,000.

Pharr and Susan Smith said they planned to visit again when the Wei family moves in.