Kimberly Akers garners nearly 200,000 signatures on Change.org petition
by David Leone
WAKE FOREST — Kimberly Akers has suffered some of the worst things a parent can face.
A year ago, her son, Cameron, who suffered a brain injury while serving in the military overseas, committed suicide at age 28. Now the single mom is struggling to pay off his student loan.
Akers is a federal prison system worker and Wake Forest resident since 2008. She started a petition on Change.org last fall to get the bank to forgive the debt. As of Tuesday, it had garnered 187,157 signatures.
“My son Cameron was my firstborn child and very special to me. He was handsome, a Division I athlete and brave,” Akers wrote on the petition site. “He was also brilliant — when he left school to serve his country in the Air Force after 9/11, he became a cryptologist. But a traumatic brain injury left him emotionally scarred, and he committed suicide almost exactly a year ago.
“Thing is, none of that matters to Cameron's student lender, KeyBank. I co-signed Cameron’s private student loan, and when he died they just started calling me to collect his debt. Collection calls are the most callous kind of reminder that you’ve lost a loved one, and I got them every day.”
‘I don’t buy stuff’
Most of her son’s other debts were forgiven — a huge help, because Akers says she doesn’t have enough income to pay the $13,000 loan and continue to provide for Cameron’s siblings.
“$13,000 is nothing to [the bank]. It’s enormous to me,” Akers said. “The only mark on my credit is Key Bank. I don’t buy stuff I can’t afford. I buy secondhand cars. I don’t buy clothes.”
Inspired by other successful petitions by grieving mothers to have their debt relieved by major banks (including by KeyBank), Akers asked for her son’s loan to be forgiven.
Federal loans are forgiven under such circumstances, she claims.
KeyBank offered to cut the payment in half to $6,000, but Akers still doesn’t have the money. She’s helping her other adult son with money for college at Wake Tech. He also needs surgery. And she’s paid out-of-pocket for family counseling, she said.
“I can’t afford it. I’m a single mom. When [Cameron] was alive he was paying on it,” she added. “We’re at a standstill right now.”
Lynn Woodman, vice-president of media relations for KeyBank, declined to comment on the petition or Akers’ situation.
“Because of law, regulations and policy we cannot make any comment of any kind on a client matter,” she said. “We extend our deepest sympathy to the family for the loss of their son.”
When asked what KeyBank’s policy was for forgiving such loans, Woodman also declined comment, saying the company doesn’t share information about internal policies.
“It does enable us to look at the situation on a case-by-case basis,” she said, though she wouldn’t elaborate.
“The bank says my son got fair use of his student loan, but none of this seems fair to me,” said Akers. “KeyBank portrays itself as a responsible community partner, but since Cameron’s death they’ve acted like vultures.”
“They’re very, very ambiguous about their policy on co-signers with deceased,” she added. “How can you pick and choose whose loan you can forgive?”
Akers knows little of what happened to Cameron in the Air Force, only that while on active duty in Japan, his orbital bone (above the eye) was crushed, requiring surgery.
After recovering physically and leaving the service, Cameron returned to military-type work as a private contractor in Afghanistan. He began developing a lot of issues; his personality changed.
“He was always incredibly smart. He was my bright kid, very quiet, sweet,” Akers said.
“His girlfriend told me he was tormented,” Akers said. “He was afraid of demons. He was running from helicopters.”
She’s since spoken to friends of Cameron’s while he was still in service. They described him going through changes in personality, de-socializing for weeks at a time.
Akers believes his head injury must have led to the changes and that it was overlooked by his superiors.
“I know the military was not paying attention to him. He’d come to work sometimes so disheveled they’d have to put him together,” she said.
Akers has two other children, a daughter, Jada, 25, and son, Jordan, 22. Cameron’s father passed away. She and her second husband, who also served in the military, are divorced.
Cameron was an all-star in every way, full of promise. He played football in high school at Ravenscroft. He ran track. He was a state champion and junior olympian.
In a retrospective on Hurdlesfirst.com titled “My greatest moment as a coach,” published in 2004 by Steve McGill, McGill wrote about Cameron’s fast improvements as an athlete and student. He also detailed the Junior Olympics race in which Cameron caught up to his competitor and crossed the finish line 0.8 seconds ahead.
“It was easily the greatest moment that I’ve had as a coach,” McGill wrote. “Looking back upon it, it stands out as the moment when I realized that I really was a good coach.”
McGill followed up his blog earlier this year after learning of Cameron’s death, noting he’d kept up with Cameron over the years, using him as an example for other students to follow.
“I was as close with him as I’ve been with any athlete I’ve ever coached, any student I’ve ever taught,” McGill wrote. “Year after year, I told stories about him all the time.
“In his last two years of high school, and in the summers, we spent much time together, and formed a very close bond that lasted until the day he died, and that continues to endure beyond the grave.”
To see the petition, visit tiny.cc/Cameronsdebt.