Slain man remembered as friend to all

'That really was pretty much his goal, to like everybody he met'
Jan. 19, 2014 @ 08:40 AM

At the funeral Jan. 2 for 20-year-old Dylan Joseph Short, hundreds of people filled the seats. His father, Joseph Short III, was not surprised by the number of girls who showed up to pay their respects.

"They were coming through the receiving line saying, 'I was girlfriend No. 1,' or, 'I was his girlfriend,'" Joseph Short said.

Throughout his short life, Short never met a stranger, his friends and relatives say. Almost anyone he met, boy or girl, soon became friends.

"No matter where you went, everybody knew Dylan," Joseph Short said Friday. "He was surrounded by friends."

Before Dylan's senior year of high school, Joseph Short moved them from Lenoir to Hudson, but knowing how difficult it can be for kids to change, he gave Dylan the choice of staying at Hibriten High or transferring to South Caldwell.

"He said, 'It's no big deal, I can make friends anywhere. I know everybody there anyway,'" Joseph Short recalled.

One of the people who didn't warm to Dylan Short, though, was Nancy Austin, whose daughter Sarah is described by Joseph Short as Dylan's "first real girlfriend." Nancy Austin, 57, a former school bus driver, is charged with murder and accused of shooting Dylan Short in the head in the driveway outside her mobile home at 1122 Tara Place in Whitnel.

Caldwell County Sheriff's Office investigators have not said what they think happened that day. Sarah Austin maintains her mother shot Dylan Short in self-defense. But friends and relatives of Dylan Short say the image of Dylan Short being aggressive, threatening and attacking women doesn't match the person they knew.

Short's ability to make friends started early in his life. Joseph Short recalls a time when his son was perhaps 7 and the two of them were heading to Boston from their home in Vermont. They stopped at a McDonald's smack in the center of Massachusetts, and out of nowhere, a little voice cried out, "Hey, Dylan." It was a schoolmate whose family happened to also be traveling, but that story was typical of anyone who spent time out with his son, said an uncle, Bobby Dodenhoff -- his friends were everywhere.

"He was the type of kid who wanted everybody to like him," Dodenhoff said.

Joseph Short, a former truck driver, and his son moved in 2004 to Lenoir. He left trucking and got a job as a correctional officer. Short, a single father, tried to be sure his son had a disciplined upbringing.

"He wasn't spoiled, he grew up real fast," Joseph said.

Dylan Short began to work at age 15, sometimes two jobs at once.

Unlike his father, Dylan Short was not big and burly. He stood about 5 feet 9 inches tall and weighed 140 pounds soaking wet. But he loved sports and played baseball, soccer and basketball. He never made the varsity teams in sports, but he seemed to excel in making friends and accumulating girlfriends.

He loved go-carts, motorcycles and mini-bikes. He also loved cars -- but they didn't seem to love him, Joseph Short said. He would keep one until something happened to it, then another car would appear in the driveway.

"He had bad luck with cars," Joseph Short said. "He never had enough money to keep a decent car. He'd drive one until it blew up."

He also accumulated speeding tickets, enough to even have his driver's license suspended. But he paid the tickets off and was back on the streets. Two weeks before Christmas, he bought a Chevrolet Cobalt, recalled his grandfather, Art Niewold.

"He left our driveway Christmas Eve and burned rubber going down the street," Niewold said. "That was just Dylan being Dylan."

Dylan Short was a picky eater but loved Rosemary Niewold's meatballs.

"He asked me if I would make him meatballs for Christmas day," Rosemary Niewold said. "I was so happy I was able to make his meatballs that day."

Short also played the trombone at Kings Creek School. Bridget Rash, 20, who also was in the band, had known Dylan for years and describes him as her best friend.

"He always made everybody laugh. He was a really an outgoing person. I love him and miss him very much," she said.

Briana Fritts, 18, who met Short two years ago, remembers Dylan Short as a sweet guy who never had a mean thing to say about anyone, friend or foe.

"He could get along with anybody," she said. "I thought it was an act, but he was sincere. That really was pretty much his goal, to like everybody he met. He always talked good about people, even if he didn't like them. If you needed something, he would do everything he could to help you any way he could."