EDITOR’S NOTE: Below is Part One of Carrie Fatigante’s six-part series about the still-unsolved mystery surrounding the death of Jarret Austin Clark, a young Oklahoma man, only days after his high school graduation.
By Carrie Fatigante
On May 18, 2006, the body of 18-year-old Jarret Austin Clark was found 26 feet below the surface of Fort Gibson Lake at Wahoo Bay in Wagoner County, Okla. Today, the mystery surrounding his death remains.
A medical examiner report listed the cause of Jarret’s death as drowning, but he had significant bruising on his cheeks and several lacerations on his face and forehead. These marks apparently resulted from a fist fight with two of the young men with whom he’d traveled to the lake the previous evening. He was also missing part of one eyebrow. The critical question left unanswered by the ME report is whether the May 14, 2006, drowning was accidental or intentional. Tammy and Eric Slater, Jarret’s mother and step-father, suspect the latter.
The day before his death, and just a few days after graduating from Broken Arrow (Okla.) High School near Tulsa, Jarret was asked to celebrate at the lake with classmate Brandon Hargrove and his girlfriend Courtney Manzer. Others in attendance included Brandon’s sister Dayna and her boyfriend, Tony Wallen. Although Jarret and Brandon knew each other, no one would call them friends, and many people remain perplexed at Jarret’s decision to accept Brandon’s invitation.
According to Tammy, Jarret’s only association with Brandon was through a weightlifting class taken during their senior year. She said Brandon dropped out of high school a few months before graduation, ending his regular contact with Jarret — or so they assumed.
Brandon had a rough reputation at school, and was not someone Jarret would normally hang out with, states his closest friend, Sean Sanderson. BAHS administrators declined requests to be interviewed to verify these claims, but court records show there was reason to believe he would have earned a bad rap. Brandon pled guilty to possession of marijuana and drug paraphernalia in February 2006, three months before Jarret’s death, and received a suspended sentence on both counts.
Sean says he’ll never fully understand what motivated Jarret to go anywhere with “this Brandon kid” whose troubled history was so widely known that Tammy said even the high school principal described Brandon to her as someone “known for pills and a bad temper.”
Around 6 p.m. on May 13, Jarret gave his mother a crystal vase filled with flowers that he’d arranged himself and a picture frame intended to hold his graduation photograph. The next day was Mother’s Day, and these were his gifts for Tammy. Shortly thereafter, Tammy says he left to meet a friend (who will remain unnamed) at his apartment. Sean was expected to meet them later.
Jarret gave his mother “his tight squeeze hug” and said to both Tammy and Eric, “I love you guys.” They never saw their only son again.