Brandon McCall was patient, especially with his girlfriend.
Instead of growing upset with Sarah Pazyk when she was behind schedule, Brandon spent the time building a tent with Sarah’s brother–who has Down syndrome–in the living room. When she worked late, Brandon picked a flower for her. He brought Sarah her favorite order of Chinese food when she was sick in bed at home.
“He went over and above in their relationship,” Pazyk’s grandmother, Jean Parsons, told msnbc. “I felt Sarah and Brandon were good for each other; they brought the good out in each other.”
Brandon, 17, took pride in surprising Sarah. When she went to a Taylor Swift concert with friends on their six-month anniversary, she arrived home to find a dress and heels that Brandon picked out and bought for her online – along with a letter promising to take her to dinner at Cracker Barrel the next night.
Another time, Brandon tied pictures to the bottom of balloon strings with a note that read: “You’re the best thing to ever happen to me.”
“He really showed me how a guy should treat a girl. He is the definition of a perfect first boyfriend,” Sarah told msnbc. He taught her not to let anyone treat her with disrespect, she said.
The teenagers were seniors at Hunter Huss High School in their hometown of Gastonia, N.C. Brandon drove Sarah, whom he dated for more than a year, back and forth from school each day. He often accompanied the Pazyk family during trips to campsites, pumpkin patches, and apple orchards. Sarah hoped to take him to the beach this summer. She persuaded him to eat his first crab legs at Red Lobster, while he coaxed her into riding roller coasters at the nearby amusement park.
“He came into Sarah’s life when Sarah was the only one of her friends who didn’t have a boyfriend,” said Parsons, who usually saw Brandon every Sunday night for dinner at the Pazyk’s home. “I actually feel it made her a different person. It gave her that boy-girl confidence.”
Brandon was uncertain about whether he wanted to join the military or go to college after graduation this spring. But he was sure of one thing: if he chose the academic path, he hoped to attend the same university as Sarah.
Brandon was shot while driving in Gastonia on Nov. 9, 2013. The suspected gunman, who led police on a three-day manhunt following the incident, faces first-degree murder charges.