A.J. and his dad spent their final day together at Disney World, where the high school band was playing for a marathon.
A father and son who shared a love for music died in an accident on February 5, 2022, leaving the whole community grieving.
Aaron "A.J." Bates II, 17, and his father, Aaron Bates, 40, were traveling to Florida State University's College of Music in Tallahassee, where A.J.—who was the head drum major of his high school band—had an audition, according to local newspaper The Ledger.
Reports suggest they died at the scene after their vehicle crossed a median and was struck by a truck. The cause of the accident is yet to be released.
"As many of you may have already heard, this past Saturday we experienced a great loss," Hannah Smith, a former Lakeland High School head drum major, wrote in a post on the band's Facebook page on Tuesday.
LHS head drum major & incoming FSU FR Aaron “A.J.” Bates II, along w father, Aaron Bates, who w was also Dreadnaught drum major when he was in hs were tragically killed today in an auto accident near Madison on their way to A.J.’s audition @ FSU’s College of Music. May they RIP. pic.twitter.com/22sI56dHfy— Polk Noles (@polknoles) March 3, 2022
The band also meant a lot to Aaron, who was drum major himself when he attended the school, according to his obituary. Years later, he went on to volunteer "his time and energy to support that same band as an adult."
Both father and son were remembered as being "excellent bandsmen" who "created uncontainable joy for whomever they came in contact with."
"It is difficult to find words to express the impact that these two men had on the Dreadnaught Band program," Smith wrote in the band's tribute. "The Bates instilled an unparalleled sense of determination and commitment into the spirit of every band member, modeling habits to last for a lifetime."
While battling their grief, the community has come forward to support their family, affectionately known as the "Bates Bunch."
"Our hearts ache with the overwhelming sorrow at the loss of two of the most incredible, kind, funny, creative, generous, and loving members of the Bates family," Katie's sister-in-law wrote in a message on a GoFundMe campaign.
"Many have asked how to help. Your prayers, thoughts, words of support, and yes, financial support are greatly appreciated during this difficult time," the organizer wrote. "There will be numerous costs in the coming weeks and months including but not limited to funeral, transportation, food, housing, and other living expenses that will now fall on Katie as a recently widowed mother and teacher."
The Lakeland High School community is grieving the death of a popular senior, the band's head drum major Aaron “A.J.” Bates II, along with his father, Aaron Bates, who had also served as the Dreadnaught’s drum major when he was in school. https://t.co/rNbZhSCbX7— The Ledger (@theledger) March 3, 2022
A.J. was "extremely proud to follow in his father's footsteps," the student's obituary read. "He was accepted into Florida State University as a music major with a euphonium concentration and was looking forward to moving to Tallahassee in the fall," the tribute continued. "Aaron will be remembered by all for his kind heart and sense of humor."
A.J. and his dad spent their final day together at Disney World, where the high school band was playing for a marathon, LHS band director Luke Hart said. "We got to spend time with Aaron and his dad as we were doing what we love to do and seeing them doing what they loved to do and playing and performing," Hart said.
Cover Image Source: Facebook | The Lakeland Senior High School Dreadnaught Band