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'A bright light' | Ahmaud Arbery's former coach, best friend pay tribute to a life gone too soon

'The love that he’s getting I just wish he was still alive to receive it.'

BRUNSWICK, Ga. — Friday would have been Ahmaud Arbery's 26th birthday. In an exclusive interview, 11Alive spoke with his former high school football coach and his best friend about the emotional story that went national. 

People across the country are running 2.23 miles, a nod to the day Ahmaud was killed.  Among those paying tribute was Ahmaud’s high school football coach, Jason Vaughn. On Friday, he also spoke about the significance of the day – and of the hashtag “#runwithmaud.”

“I wanted to connect with him at the last place I seen him and the last time I seen him he was doing what he loved,” Coach Vaughn said. “Just taking a run around my neighborhood. And I thought that I could catch up with him but I seen him turn the corner - he was moving way too fast for this older man.” 

“I realized the great strength and endurance that Ahmaud had and so that’s why I say I can’t do this battle by myself unless I have Maud-type endurance,” he added.

Ahmaud’s friend Akeem Baker is still struggling with the young man’s death and shared with 11Alive the kind of person he was.

“Ahmaud was a beautiful person inside out - a phenomenal friend,” he said. “The love that he’s getting I just wish he was still alive to receive it.”

Coach Vaughn still remembers the night his former player died – as well as the day Gregory and Travis McMichael were arrested more than 70 days later.

“It’s actually 74 days that 73 nights where Ahmaud’s family didn’t get to sleep peacefully knowing the people that murdered their son was still in our community inside the shopping centers, in our grocery stores just casually working outside on their truck,” he said. " ... So, hearing that noise was a sigh of relief, but like we say it’s a marathon. We know we got a long way to go.”

And while it’s a long way to go, it’s a path many are willing to take for someone Akeem referred to as “a bright light to the world in this world of darkness.”

“He was a respectable person. He was somebody that valued true friendship. He saw the best in those he came across,” he said. “That’s what I want the world to know. He saw the best in everyone he came across. And he placed value on everyone.”

And, as photos and stories continue to circulate online in the aftermath of Ahmaud’s death – and the two arrests that followed – both his friend and his coach are sharing their memories as proof that his life was more a hashtag and that his absence is a very heartbreaking reality to a south Georgia community.

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