Friends are mourning the death of a 29-year-old gay Atlanta man, beloved basketball player and Delta flight attendant who drowned in Lake Lanier.
Troy Landers Keijuan Harden was on a rented pontoon boat with friends when he went into the water on Aug. 12, swam behind the boat for a short time, called out for help and then did not resurface, according to friends and media reports. State Department of Natural Resources rangers and emergency personnel from Forsyth County searched for Harden but have been stymied by the 125-foot depth of the water and timber below the surface, according to the Gainesville Times.
"Rangers continue to search for Mr. Harden in the center of the channel between Aqualand Marina and Port Royale Marina,” DNR spokesman Mark McKinnon wrote in an email.
“The search efforts are primarily being conducted in the evenings and overnight due to heavy boat traffic during the day,” he wrote.
Searchers have also been flying over the area twice a day as part of the search effort. Harden's body has not yet been recovered.
The news has devastated Harden's friends, many of whom played with him during an LGBT basketball tournament just days earlier. Harden, a high school athlete from Sparta, Ga., was a small forward and guard for the Atlanta Fury, which plays in the LGBT league 4US Sports Foundation. But more than that, he was the team's emotional leader, according to Dedrick Tillerson, who co-founded 4US Sports and coaches the Fury.
"He was the life of the party. He was the person that when we were having tough times as a team in a tournament, he would always manage to make light in a bad situation," Tillerson said.
The league hosted its Summer Hoop Fest on Aug. 6-7 at Clayton State University.
"Who knew that would be the last time we were going to see him," Tillerson said.
Tillerson and Harden met two years ago as 4U Sports was launching. The two immediately hit it off and became close friends.
"He was still trying to figure himself out. For me being the person, the older of the group, it became more than a basketball relationship and more of a personal relationship. It was more than a coach to player relationship, it was big brother to little brother," Tillerson said.
'He touched everyone he encountered'
Harden, a former corrections officer with the Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice, had transitioned to Delta where he was a flight attendant. But whatever his job, Harden exuded a passion for life that touched people, Tillerson said.
"Anybody that met or came into contact with Troy can tell you that he just touched everyone that he encountered – with his quirky personality and his outgoing love for life," Tillerson said.
Harden graduated from Georgia Military College Prep in 2005 and the principal of the Milledgeville school, Col. Pam Grant, remembered how his personality filled a room. Grant was one of Harden's teachers when he attended the school. Via the Union Recorder:
“We are all so saddened to hear of Troy’s passing," said Grant via email. “Those of us who taught Troy remember him for the beautiful smile he always had on his face; he lit up a room when he walked in. We also remembered that he loved life and loved to dance. Troy exhibited all of the character traits we strive to instill in our students, and it is such a tragedy that his life has been cut short at such a young age. We will continue to keep Troy's family in our thoughts and prayers."
Tillerson said LGBT basketball teams are a tight-knit community and Harden's death has deeply moved them.
"If you were in a crowd of 1,000 people, he would push people down to get to you to tell you hi, to hug you. That is the type of person that Troy was. And he was a hell of a basketball player too," Tillerson said.
Friends are planning a prayer vigil for Harden on Saturday at Three Sisters Island on Lake Lanier. Organizers said the event will offer "prayer, fellowship and friendship" to honor Harden.
"I just want all of us who were close to him and his family to know that they are surrounded by love. Nothing can bring him back at this point. The only thing that will help get through a situation as tragic as this is having people around and being in prayer and loving on one another," Tillerson said.
"It's bringing everyone together in fellowship, to know that the masses of people he knew and cared about him are with him, with us and with family in this time of bereavement," he added.