My name is Brandon Treen, I’m a WVU Alumnus that attended from 2003-2008. After graduation my first job was working for a company in Morgantown (where I stayed until 2010) so I was well aware of the outrageous and horrible attack on your son as it was well publicized here.
I have periodically followed Ryan’s story ever since that day. There are many stories of evil acts taken by evil men, and subsequently stories of the suffering of their victims. My initial interest in Ryan’s story is most likely geographic. For much of my college time I lived in a house my friends and I rented on Allen Ave, which is just a block up the hill from the Dairy Mart where the attack happened. You can actually see the store’s parking lot from the second story front windows of the house we used to rent.
I can’t count the number of times my friends or roommates and I would stop at that Dairy Mart in the waning hours of the night for late night snacks. Never once did I fear for my safety, never once did I imagine it was a dangerous place. I felt great shame when I read about your family’s story. This was not due to anything you or your family have ever said about West Virginia or WVU, as you have been amazingly positive towards both in my opinion. But it was due to the fact that a Virginia family sent their son to school in West Virginia and he was not safe here.
My home state’s problems are well known, especially to native West Virginians. But violent crime is not a problem most West Virginians ever worry about. I grew up in Charleston and spent 7 years working in and going to school in Morgantown. Before moving to Ohio I was a life long West Virginia resident. Never in all that time, in any situation, did I ever fear for my safety or think I was somewhere that was not safe. My parents and grandparents do not lock their doors at night, this is generally a safe place to live and to raise a family.
With all the negative stereotypes and impression much of the country has towards West Virginia, I always took pride in the fact we have one of the lowest violent crime rates in the country. Our State does poorly in virtually all other statistical measures, but we could take comfort in the fact that at the very least, this was a safe place to live. When someone from another State comes here and is victimized in this way, it strikes at the heart of that. As a West Virginian I sincerely apologize that your son was not safe in our State.
However, I also understand that human society will never be free of evil. I spent my time on the streets of Morgantown late at night, and I never once was involved in any sort of physical altercation. However I can at least understand the potential exists, fights can happen and can break out. But Ryan and his friend were not involved in a fight, they were mindlessly assaulted by a gang of individuals. I cannot understand that, but I could at least ascribe it to youthful stupidity and poor behavior if this had involved a single sucker punch and no more. That would show a poor disposition and lack of any proper impulse control by the attackers. However Austin Vantrease did more than just sucker punch your son’s friend, he kicked a man in the head who was already on the ground. That isn’t lack of judgment, that is not the foolishness of youth, that isn’t aggression that is typical of some people raised in bad environments with bad parental oversight. That is a deliberate, violent attempt to maliciously wound another human being who cannot defend themselves. That is an act far worse than any simple sucker punch or unprovoked attack, because it is a deliberate act that can only be taken with the intent to cause serious harm. I truly believe someone who does that is not a well formed human being, they may not have anti-social personality disorder and qualify as a diagnostic sociopath but they must certainly be one of those unfortunate members of our species that are evil. We can’t control the fact that some members of our society will be evil men who do evil things. I wish that we could.
However what we can control, as a society is our response to such actions. This is where my State has some glaring deficiencies. I love my home State, its natural beauty, its small town charm and the distinct cultural traditions. But one thing I do not love about my home State is our laws in regard to violent crime and our criminal justice system. Unfortunately for justice, our State has weak penalties for criminals and sweetheart early release regulations. I understand State government is extremely cash-strapped and desperate to save money. I think that’s fine when we’re talking about non-violent drug offenders or minor felons. But I wish that my State would distinguish between such persons and people like Austin Vantrease. Unfortunately our laws do not adequately capture the difference between someone like Vantrease, who has inflicted a lifetime of suffering on another person, and someone engaged in a malicious assault that results in far less injury.
I have little hope to effect change in the laws of the State of West Virginia, but I do sincerely wish current West Virginia residents and voters would take a stronger position on this issue and devote effort to having stricter laws put into place.
I know that you must be extremely busy running this website, and probably receive many emails a day. All that before factoring in what is obviously a herculean task of caring for your son, so I understand if you do not read or respond to all correspondence. I will say that your work here has kept at least one West Virginian informed about your son, and has made me care. Most likely if not for the extensive information and contact that was put out through social media and later this website I do believe your son would have probably been forgotten by many. In this world of the 24-hour news cycle it is so hard to get anyone to care about anything for very long, so I hope you feel some sense of accomplishment in hearing that your work here has definitely kept people informed and concerned; and in a world in which yesterday’s news is long forgotten it has kept your son in the minds of many.
Something I have been inspired to do by reading your site, is to write a letter to the Parole Board on behalf of your son and the community asking them to deny parole in the future. It is something I never would have thought to do had you not maintained this website, and never would have thought to do if you had not related that the Parole Board put weight behind the community’s opposition to Vantrease’s release.
That I am sure is small comfort to you, but I thought it worth mentioning that you have inspired at least one person to action on this matter (and based on the response I’ve seen to this website and the letters you mention have already been written — it appears I am not the first or only person so inspired.)
My sincerest appreciation to Brandon Treen, author of this post. It is timely, based my introduction of an online petition to the West Virginia Parole Board. This petition simply ask the Board to deny all future attempts at parole by Austin Vantrease, who was criminally convicted for the felonious malicious assault (serving 2-10 years) on Ryan. At a minimum, I’m asking that you take a minute (or less) to add your name. If you want to help much more, share this petition through your social media.
Interested in reading more? Another website author adds to the conversation and you can read her story here
(from the website, … and then I Found $5) (from maryanne.tumbler.com).