A Dead Man in LadyBird Lake + Litany for the Homeless

We had a sad and stark thing happen in our family this week. My husband Jordan Gadapee is sharing the tale. A litany from me follows his story.

On December 28, 2016, a man was found dead floating in Austin’s Lady Bird Lake. The man likely drowned, but authorities are not yet sure of the cause of death. He was wearing baggy pants, several shirts, and four neckties. He had a butter knife in his pocket. His name, age, and reasons for being in the lake were all unknown. If you live in the Austin area, you may have come across the story. It’s possible you saw the headline in a passing tweet. Maybe you heard a brief news report on the incident. Or, perhaps, there was an odd odor on your afternoon run. I didn’t run that day.

I work in downtown Austin at 301 Congress St. The lake is a few blocks away from my office, and a lunchtime jog makes for a great pardon on busy days. The man was found floating one mile from my office. That’s 5,280 feet. When the weather is nice, the park around the lake is full of people. You’ll find runners, walkers, and casual explorers. My favorite person is the homeless man who sleeps on the bench. If he’s awake, he’ll give you a high-five as you run past. It was 82° Fahrenheit that day, and I imagine his hand stinging from too many high-fives. I didn’t get a high-five that day.

Lady Bird is a local favorite for recreational watercraft, and the day was perfect for breaking in the kayaks delivered by Santa. Beautiful weather is the upside to Christmas in Texas. A couple of kayakers were enjoying the weather when they spotted the body floating. It’s unusual for people to swim in the lake — thanks to the chlordane, overgrowth, and old debris. The man was unresponsive, so they called 911. I didn’t see the police tape; I was in my office.

I was also in my office on January 03, 2017. It was a week later and cooler outside. The temperature was 74° Fahrenheit. I had just talked to my mother, and she briefed me on the incoming call. I was still holding my phone when it started vibrating. I answered the call at 4:38 pm. Jennifer spoke with a practice cadence of a surgeon, “Hi Jordan. I am Jennifer from the Travis County Coroner’s office.” Pause. “On December 28th your biological father was found dead in Lady Bird Lake.” Shock. Jennifer was excellent at her job. She answered some of my questions: “Yes dead on the scene.” “Drowned, we think. There are other tests still results we need.” “We identified him by his fingerprints.” Silence. “You have an aunt and her name is Jan. She is making the arrangements.” The volley of questions lasted 6 minutes. I wanted to go for a run.

I didn’t know my biological father. I would learn from Jennifer that he was indigent — that’s fancy for homeless. Being homeless means he was a part of society but mostly unseen, unheard, and untouched. He was invisible. Just like in my life; there and not. Present in my enzymes and proteins but not for soccer practice or bed time. No one was looking for him. It took the county seven days to find a relative one mile away. I didn’t even know we lived in the same city. Repeat: I had no idea we both lived in Austin, Texas! There had been divorce, estrangement, distance, and decades. His kinship rights waived long ago. We spoke on the phone once. It was 14 years ago and the conversation was brief. He turned invisible again after that. I never got to run with my father, though we walked on the same streets.

We may have met. I keep spare change and dollar bills in my car to give away to homeless people. I sometimes give away my lunch. I’ve served at food banks and helped box food in South Austin. When my children ask why I give money away, I explain, “This is what kind humans do. We have and they do not, so we share.” I should ask the homeless their names; kind people do that. If I had asked, this story could be different. I am resolved to close the loop and to return kindness for his unkindness. To be present even though he was not. I will be there for whatever service or memorial or tombstone he has. I will try to learn the names of the invisible (especially, high-five-black-man).

Nine days later, the weather has turned. Today the high is 38° Fahrenheit. I do not feel like running. However, I have had many other feels over the last week. Most of all sadness, loneliness, and curiosity. I have been desperate for the nearness of my family. A run with my wife Fran would heal much. I am sad for many reasons. Among them are the circumstances of his dying homeless. Being homeless and dying must be like watching a pot boil. Slowly violent. To die without a place, lonely, and invisible while there is so much and so many around is sad. I’m embarrassed that it happens in our society. I am willing to help.

There are many organizations in the Austin area that provide aid, services, and education to the homeless. Over the next year, I will be giving to money to Caritas of Austin, boxing food at the Central Texas Food Bank, and supporting the Food Pantry at the Austin Vineyard Church. If you’d like to do the same, the links are below. It would make me happy. I will try and run around Lady Bird Lake more often. Most of all, I will learn the names of the homeless I encounter. His name was Johnny.

Caritas of Austin, Tell them Jordan sent you in the comments of your donation.

Austin Vineyard Church, Your donation can go directly to the food ministry. They feed almost 100 families a month.  

Central Texas Food Bank, it’s a great place to volunteer. The people are awesome. It’s great for teams.

If you give to your local charity, linking this article will help them track to source and reasons for your donation.

As a final note I think it’s important to acknowledge that my mother is an incredible woman. The man my mother re-married years later is a loving and caring father. He is my dad. He was always there at soccer practice.



God, we know that many invisible people exist all around us:
People we consider beneath us,
People we judge for what we consider their poor choices or low standards,
People we distance ourselves from because they are unclean,
People who have been ill or made mistakes and fallen through the cracks of society,
The beggars at the gate. (1)

We don't know them,
But you do.
We don't know their names,
But you know each hair on their heads.
We often fail to care for them,
But they are precious in your sight.

Help us to see what your eyes see:
Human beings
Broken and beautiful
Sacred and scarred.

For those without shelter
We pray to God.
For those without jobs
We pray to God.
For those without food, water, and facilities
We pray to God.
For those who have been imprisoned and never recovered
We pray to God.
For those whose minds are befuddled by illness
We pray to God.
For those destroyed by war
We pray to God.
For those overwhelmed by addiction
We pray to God.
For those who have simply lost hope
We pray to God.

In the midst of death and dying,
Of filth and discomfort;
Of hunger, thirst, and exposure,
Come Lord Jesus!

Make us your hands and feet:
Generous sharers and helpers,
Bearers of the good news of your kingdom
Even unto the Invisibles.


(1) Luke 16