For several months, Asia-Plus has corresponded with Jea Austin, the mother of Jay Austin who was among a group of four foreign cyclists killed by terrorists in Danghara district on July 29 last year.  

in her heartfelt and frank letters, Jea Austin has told us about how bright and unusual was life of American tourist Jay Austin, about his unfulfilled dreams and hopes, his wisdom.  

In March, we decided to write a letter to Jay’s mother to talk about her son and prepare material for the first anniversary of that terrible tragedy.  I spent a lot of time with the first letter, I rewrote and reread it several times, choosing every word carefully – I was afraid to touch the still fresh wound.  When I finally sent the letter, Jea answered my letter very bluntly and even sharply.  It could not be otherwise.    

“Don't worry about upsetting me. I am now upset forever.  My son is always with me forever upset and nothing and never will take it away from me.  I constantly want to talk about him, I want share his history with everyone.  I want to be reminded of my son again and again, I want to be told how people treat him and what happened to him. And I want you all to know how wonderful and amazing my son was <..>.  So do not worry about my feelings. Talk to me, talk about my son, I want to talk about him as long as I can talk.”  

We talked about Jay for nearly five months. 

Here his mother talks in the first person.  

Childhood, adolescence, youthfulness

When I became pregnant with Jay, a planned pregnancy, my daughter, Jay's only older sibling, was just 7 months old.  My marriage was not going well and I wanted my daughter to have a sibling in case the marriage ended. It sounds selfish now, to bring a new child into the world into a broken relationship between his parents but I didn't realize that aspect of what I was doing back then. I was thinking more of my daughter, which was easier to do since she was already here. I wanted my daughter and the new baby to be close in age, with the ultimate plan, hopefully, to be close in life, and I planned for Jay to be born in the spring since my daughter was born in the winter month of January, in the cold and dreary, the reason for them being closer in age than I would have preferred. Jay and his older sister are 16 months apart. Jay also has a younger sibling, a brother, 6 years his junior. Jay was born on May 1st, 1989.  This May 1st, 2019 would have been Jay's 30th birthday, a monumental birthday here in the United States, a birthday of which great emphasis is placed on.

When I married my husband at the time, my ex-husband now, I was made to quit my job, and to stop attending college courses at night.  Italian men, back then, felt embarrassed and shamed if their wives worked, signifying that they couldn't take care of their families financially on their own.  So at the time Jay was born, I was, what we call here in the United States, a stay-at-home mom.  Raising my children, being home with them all day, every day, was the greatest joy of my life.  We were always busy, always doing, always exploring, always involved in nature. I realized that although I was born in the city, I was a country girl at heart and I raised my children to love the outdoors and to appreciate nature.

As a very young boy and throughout his teenage years, Jay was always a joy.  He was a very quiet boy, always a smile on his face, always good-natured, polite and respectful, never demanding, always agreeing with whatever I offered for us to do, never feeling entitled.

Jay was a brilliant child from early on.  I was astonished when Jay would drive in the car, in the back seat, in his car seat, and read the signs as we drove by all the stores and restaurants and any building that had a sign on it.  Jay was reading everything and he wasn't even in kindergarten yet, the first level of school the children in the United States attend publicly.  He was always very compelled to achieve academically.  He never had to be asked to do his homework, he enjoyed doing his homework.  The only time Jay ever demanded anything of me was when he insisted on the best school supplies to complete a special project. He excelled in school, always at the top of his class, always an honor student.  Here in the United States, we are asked to attend meetings with the teachers a couple of times a year to go over our child's progress.  The purpose of this meeting is for the teacher to tell us where our children need to improve.  When I would go to visit Jay's teachers, they would tell me not to come, that there is nothing they need to tell me, that Jay is the perfect student, that I should leave that time for the parents who need that time, to discuss how their children need to improve.  I was so proud of Jay, to be told by all of his teachers not to come visit them, that he is a remarkable student.

Jay did not attend our local high school.  When he was in junior high school, the year before he would have attended high school, he applied for a program for academically-talented students to attend a special program entitled Scholars' Center for the Humanities, which, if accepted, would have had him attend a high school out of our local area.  Approximately 200 students apply but only 24 are accepted to this four-year program.  Jay, and my daughter, his sister, were accepted into this program. It specializes in teaching skills in how to perform as a civil servant, someone helping the public, or as an attorney, etc.  Jay graduated from this program winning the scholarship with the highest award, a very proud moment for me. At the time Jay was accepted, I believe his interest was in becoming an attorney, however, as he got older, into his graduate and undergraduate studies, I believe his goal shifted toward public service, possibly a congressman or an advocate.  I thought Jay was destined to become President of the United States.

When Jay completed the Scholars' Center for the Humanities program, he was accepted to the University of Delaware, a prestigious college, accepting students with at least a 3.5 GPA of 4.0.  The University of Delaware is a four-year school where the average student takes approximately four and a half inconsecutive years to complete, graduating between the ages of 24 and 26.  Jay graduated at the top of his class in two years.  At the age of 20, he received his Bachelor's Degree.  Jay was then accepted to Georgetown University in Washington, DC, an Ivy-League school, one of only eight in the country, requiring a 3.99 GPA; the acceptance rate into Georgetown is 16.4% of students who apply. Jay graduated from Georgetown at the top of his class with a Master's Degree at 21 years old, with the typical student being 33 years of age upon graduation. While attending Georgetown, Jay did an internship at the Capitol.

When Jay was in junior high school, he called me into his room to show me a spreadsheet he created on his computer. It indicated, in every color available, that the screen lit up, all of the courses Jay would take, to include summer school, attending classes during spring break, winter break, etc., so that he can graduate with his Master's Degree at age 21.  I told Jay how impressed I was, how amazing it was that he planned this, more importantly, that this was his goal. What kid at 14 years old would think to do this, would even be thinking of this? When I left his room though, I thought his plan was impossible.  I wouldn't let him know that I felt this way.  But obviously, he proved me wrong.  He did exactly what he planned to do at 14 years old.  He graduated with his Master's at 21.

This was Jay's way.  Making a plan, sometimes one that seemed impossible to anyone else, yet, he planned it and he followed through with his plan, achieving his goal.  Living his life on his terms.

In answer to your question, I don't recall Jay having any one-best friend in particular growing up but I do recall him having lots of friends.  Jay was always well liked.  He was quiet yet very sociable and outgoing. And lots of those friends, he remained in touch with until he died.  Some of those childhood friends attended Jay's memorial service in Washington, DC.

To sum up Jay's life, he said it best when he wrote, 'I could die doing what I love, but I could also die never having really lived.  To me, that would have been a far greater tragedy'.

The best way

Although Jay was grateful that he had the experience of attending college and getting an education, he later learned that it wasn't necessary and he would have rather not been burdened with a student loan.  Jay believed that the way our society live our lives, believing that we need to attend prestigious schools to get the best education possible, to get the best job possible, with the goal to earn a six-figure salary so that we can buy that big house and that expensive car only to find that we are slaves to our choices.  That we work long and hard days to pay for the things we don't have time to enjoy.  Jay learned in his early-to-mid twenties that there's a better way.  That way was to living simply, minimally, to live as basic as possible so our things don't own us, so we don't have to work as hard, so we can afford to support ourselves on a smaller income allowing us more time to enjoy what is really important to us and in Jay's case, that was all of the adventures this world has to offer.

Although Jay worked for the federal government for about 8 years, from the time he graduated college until he 'retired' to live his life, his 'profession' of choice would have been to give back and to inspire others, that you can live your best life, that it is possible.  Jay shared with me that upon his return from this trip .. or sometime in his lifetime .. he wanted to start a non-profit cafe in DC.  The premise would be that for those who can afford their coffees, their meals, they pay for an extra coffee or meal.  For those who can't afford a coffee or meal, they can visit Jay's cafe and have that coffee or meal because of the person who paid double for theirs.  This concept is growing here in the United States.  We have a restaurant here in New Jersey called Soul Kitchen that operates on this premise, I believe.

I'm not sure if Jay learned 'conscious consumption' since he grew up in a single-parent household with two siblings with money always being sparse.  Although we were never comfortable, I always found a way to make it through, living basic, but still enjoying life, always getting out, always doing enjoyable things and exposing our family to what I thought they should have, what they needed to learn about the world around them and what was available to them.  A treat, for instance, would be to go to a movie but I popped our own popcorn before we left for the theatre and I brought our own drinks, sneaking them in with my huge tote bag. But more importantly, what I thought was most important, was teaching our family about nature.  Although I grew up in a big city, for whatever reason, I was always a country girl at heart.  I loved nature.  Nature is free and it's lovely and it's a wonderful place to explore and spend time.  I took the kids fishing and on picnics and to the beach, apple and pumpkin picking, to every event I could find, like taking a walking tour on Halloween night through a path lit by decoratively carved-out pumpkins that ended with 'free' apple cider and roasting of marshmallows over the fire.

Jay was born into a comfortable home, a typical American home, four bedrooms, two and a half baths, a basement and large yard.  When he was young though, when Jay was six years old, I divorced his father.  Without the financial assistance his father should have offered, we were forced to move into a significantly smaller home, a bit too small for the four of us but we managed.  Although while growing up, having Jay's schoolmates all live in much larger homes, expensive homes, with in-ground pools, etc., Jay never complained about how we lived. I think he may have taken away a life lesson from that experience.  Although we lived small, we still lived full.  We still did what mattered maybe even more so than the friends that lived in the 'big' houses.

Having attended Georgetown University in Washington, DC, Jay opted to remain there after graduating.  He rented apartments, too expensive, simply because they were in DC, a very expensive place to live.  I remember Jay was living in a converted townhouse, common to DC.  The owner converted the two-levels of living space, one apartment, into two.  Jay had one level.  When I believe he realized that there has to be a better way, a more affordable way to live, that working in front of a computer monitor was not the way he wanted to live his life, yet needing to do that to pay the rent on his apartment. he came across the tiny house option. I remember him telling me that he responded to an ad, I think, or heard/read about this idea somewhere that one or more persons was planning to build a tiny-house community, I believe to showcase that affordable living is obtainable in a metropolitan/urban (expensive) area.  Jay told me that he was planning to meet with these people and a couple years later, his tiny house was built in a community of four tiny houses, I believe, with a vegetable garden and a hot tub, among other things.  Either at the time he learned that he'd be involved in building his tiny house or before his tiny house was completed, he placed tape on the floor, I remember it was yellow, the dimensions of what his tiny house would be, 8' x 20'.  Everything he needed to take with him to the tiny house, not necessarily what he wanted to take, he placed inside the taped section and everything he didn't want to take with him or didn't need to take with him, he placed outside of the taped section, to donate or do whatever was appropriate.

My understanding of the concept/purpose of the tiny house community was to showcase these homes, for people from all over the country to come visit them, to see that tiny house living is possible. It's an affordable alternative and more importantly, sustainable and better for the environment, saving resources by using solar energy, rain catchment systems, etc. Jay also invited musicians to come showcase their talent, to play/sing on the porch of his tiny house, free to the locals to come listen and refreshments were provided.

Jay was also featured as 'Tiny House Builder' in the Netflix documentary entitled, 'Minimalism, the Documentary', and appeared on a Podcast with Bill Coon regarding his tiny house ~ ~ and has been featured in many magazines.


Jay was involved in a few 'serious' relationships, with each partner nicer than the prior, with each more suited to Jay but none as perfect as Lauren.  I've only met Lauren a couple of times, with she living in DC and me in Jersey and with her work requiring her to travel frequently.  We did speak over the phone, with Lauren I believe the initiator of those calls between Lauren, Jay and I.  Lauren would also facebook messenger me during their travels.  I loved Lauren as if she were a daughter.  I hoped she and Jay would always be together.  They adored and respected and loved each other tremendously.

I asked a very dear friend to both Jay and Lauren how they met and this is a snapshot of her response. Sometime over the course of 2011-2012, Lauren and a friend started hanging out with a close friend's grad school friends, including Jay. At some point that year, Jay and Lauren started hanging out together, going to movies, getting tea, working on Jay's (Matchbox) tiny house together. They started dating off and on, with Jay grappling with some of his values and what it meant to date someone who didn't necessarily fully align with those. The real turning point in their relationship came in 2015 after Jay came back from India. That was the point where there was a shift in their relationship, where it seemed like they both decided to commit to making it work. They certainly still had their differences and challenges after that, but that was when they seemed to become a solid couple.

I remember Jay telling me about Lauren, that they were good friends but he wasn't sure he wanted to take it further because he took issue with Lauren's job, recruiting high school students for college loans, I believe something to that effect, and although Jay graduated college, he incurred a student loan and regretted having done that. He didn't feel it was necessary to have a college education in order to succeed in life, especially detrimental to start a life after college with debt. I was thrilled that Jay took the risk, to further his relationship with Lauren.  They are both so genuine, so caring, so compassionate with the goal to make a difference, to inspire, to live a better, simpler and happy life.


My son had taken several major trips prior to this last one.  I lived vicariously through his adventures. I was always so proud of and amazed by his sense of adventure, his openness to take risks, his fearlessness and his courage.  He once took a trip alone on his scooter, for two months or so, across the United States and through parts of Canada and Mexico, he chronicled the Scooter Diaries.  Another time, he traveled through Europe on his own for a couple of months with nothing more than a train pass.  He also traveled extensively to other parts of the world on his own. Before this last trip, he and Lauren traveled to Iceland for a trial run of traveling together on bicycle.

When I learned of Jay leaving his job to travel, I was in awe that he was able to figure out how to escape the traditional constraints of our society. We are raised in a society where we are urged to work hard from an early age, to do well in school, to continue our education past what's mandated so we can earn high incomes to afford that big house and fancy car although we never get to enjoy any of it because we have to work long hours to pay for it all. Then, only if we're lucky enough, when we reach old age, if we haven't died before we've retired, we may get to relax a bit .. when our bodies are tired and we are old and not mobile enough to do what we truly would like to.  From an early age, we're not taught to relax, we're not taught that the 'best things in life' truly are free.  Jay rose above and found a way out.  Jay found how to be happy, how to live in the moment, how to enjoy life before he got too old to.

I was thrilled Jay was on this journey.  Nervous and worried, of course.  But more thrilled above all else. The thought of my son traveling the world, strangers becoming friends, his being open and anxious to learn new cultures, seeing the sights through his eyes, is a rare opportunity. I hung on every word of his blog ( and anxiously awaited every email and every phone call. Jay once wrote, 'I could die doing what I love but I could also die never having really lived.  To me, that would have been a far greater tragedy'.  Knowing now how much pain I am in, how shattered my heart is, how destroyed, devastated and distraught I am in losing Jay, in Jay losing his life .. if we can go back in time, if I were to know what was going to happen to Jay, I would still encourage him to go on this journey.  I would want him to die, if he has to, doing what he loved.


I was sitting out on my back porch.  It was Sunday mid afternoon, the same day Jay was murdered.  Tajikistan is nine hours ahead of New Jersey.  Although my telephone rang, I didn't hear it from outside but then I did hear a woman's voice speaking on the answering machine.  At that point, I walked inside.  I heard her leaving an international phone number and instantly knew the call had to involve Jay.  I quickly picked it up before she could hang up.  It was the US Embassy.  She asked that I identify myself first before she gave me the news that Jay had been killed.  I couldn't fathom the words I was hearing.  When I knew the call must have involved Jay before I answered, I thought the person on the other end would tell me that Jay had been hurt, that he was injured on his bicycle and that he was in the hospital, but that he would be okay.  I remember her telling me that Jay had been killed in a hit and run.

The place of last night for foreign tourists

I couldn't speak at first, I was absolutely taken back and shocked by what this woman was telling me, it was surreal, and after a few minutes, the only words I muttered was to ask if Lauren was okay. I remember asking nothing about Jay and saying not a word about anything else, probably other than goodbye, if I even said that much. She said some words to the effect that someone would be contacting me, something about arrangements to have Jay's body sent back home but I really didn't hear much of that.  When I hung up the phone, I thought instantly that this must be an act of terrorism, something that was not in my scope of possibility of what could happen to Jay while traveling. I had no idea what to do with myself.  I started walking in circles around my living room and then decided to walk to the front door.  I looked outside and thought for sure the sky would be turning red with blood and then black and in the interim, the world would stop existing and everything in my sight would be destroyed.  But I was shocked to find that didn't happen.  Everything looked exactly as it did before I was told Jay was dead.  How could that be I thought. My world has changed forever but how can it still look the same?


The night after Jay was murdered, I was laying on a futon on my back porch.  Four of my friends had come to stay with me the day I got the news that Jay was murdered.  My friends were staying with me until my daughter and son can arrive from other states in the country.  For my friends to have room inside to sleep, I was going to sleep on the back porch.  Of course, I couldn't sleep.  I was laying on my side on the futon in the night but my eyes were wide open.  Instantly a vision came to me.  It first formed as a long oval shape, about three feet tall and two feet wide.  I saw a road, a black newly-paved asphalt road but without any markings/stripes painted on it or any lamp posts or overhead electrical wiring.  Then on either side of the road, I saw a huge field, as if a field had been harvested a while back and all that was left was what had turned to straw, that yellowish dried vegetation color.  The field extended back quite a ways, almost as far as I can see, and in the very back, across the rear of the field, I could see a barrier of tall trees.  The only light was the moonlight, a bluish hue, with a handful of scattered stars but only directly above me, there were no other stars in the sky.  Then from about 40' back, Jay stepped onto the road from out of the darkness.  He looked beautiful.  He was happy.  He was clothed in a white and red  vaguely-plaid shirt with dungarees and a short dungaree jacket and was wearing sneakers, the kind he always wore.  He walked up to me and stopped, crossing his legs at his ankles, as he always does and cocked his head slightly and smiled slightly and said 'hey'. Nothing more. And in an instant, he was gone.  He came to me to show me that he was okay, his body was whole. He showed me his body from his head to his feet and he was walking perfectly. He wanted me to know that he wasn't ravaged with stab wounds or broken legs, how he died.

A memorial plaque to commemorate four foreign tourists brutally killed in the Danghara district on July 29 was installed at the scene of the attack.

Since that vision, I've had three other dreams in which Jay came to me, one as when he was a five-year old, the other two as an adult .. in all always saying that he was okay, when I asked, always telling him how sorry I was that this happened to him.  I got to hug him in each dream.  In one dream though when I needed to know if he was happy where he was, he said it was okay but that he would rather be here down on Earth.


When I received the last answers to the questions, Jea letter from Jea asked could I do something for her.  I agree and she told about documentary “Collision” dedicated to the July tragedy.  The documentary was prepared by journalists of The New York Times.  The documentary was shot in Tajikistan, in the district where foreign cyclists had been killed.  In one of episodes, journalists told about local resident, in whose house Jay, Loren and other cyclists spent the last night.

“Journalists said that Jay had left some note to that man.  Could you find him and give him thanks from me for sheltering my son, and find out what my son wrote in that note,” Jea wrote.  

It turned out to be quite easy to find that man.  He is well known in Vose.  His name is Nazarkhon Khorkashev.  He is a teacher in a rural school.  The cyclists spent night in his apricot orchard.  Nazarkhon said that he remembers Jay well.  He says Jay was very beautiful.  

“So tall, athletic, smart, joked a lot and smiled constantly and his wife is beautiful,” said Nazarkhon. 

And in parting, Jay wrote him a note that Nazarkhon now keeps carefully. 

“Hi! We are four groups of tourists traveling by bikes together towards Dushanbe.  Loren and I are Americans traveling around the world for 13 months, across Africa, Europe and now across Asia.  We love Tajikistan and we want to say thank you for giving us a place to sleep on the way to the capital city…”  

…In seven hours, terrorists will attack them in Danghara district.  Jay, Loren, a Dutchman, and a Swiss man were killed after attackers plowed into their group on a road and then stabbed some of them.  

In memory of his guests, Nazarkhon planted a new apricot tree in his orchard this spring.  

A tree Nazarkho planted in mmeory of his guests.