Aaron Arias is 19 years old and Hispanic, tall and burly with a head full of prematurely gray hair and a valiant stab at a beard. Jamal Harris is 17 and black, shorter and skinny, a clean-cut kid who looks maybe two or three years younger than his age. Arias and Harris are from Seagoville, they’ve been best friends for the past couple of years, and, on August 22, they helped save a woman’s life.
They noticed the 25-year-old in the backseat of the silver Lexus stopped at a red light just off US-175 because they are teenagers and she was pretty. “Kind of attractive,” as Arias put it in his 911 call. She noticed them noticing her and mouthed a word. “Help.”
The woman had been struck over the head outside of a downtown Dallas office building and forced into her car by a 37-year-old man named Charles Atkins Lewis Jr. He took the wheel and headed east, eventually crossing paths with Arias and Harris in Seagoville.
Seagoville is about 20 minutes southeast of Dallas on 175 and has a population around 15,000. It is notable for little other than it is the hometown of the Portland Trail Blazers’ All-Star forward, LaMarcus Aldridge. “There’s not much to do out there,” Arias says over lunch at Angry Dog in Deep Ellum on a Saturday in October.
Here is the list, as I understand it after talking to Arias and Harris, of Things to Do in Seagoville When You’re a Teenager: go to the mall (which is not actually in Seagoville); play video games; pool hop (summer only, obviously); and kill time waiting to do one of the other items on the list. That day, Arias and Harris were on Option D: killing time. Technically, they were on their way to kill time. The plan was to pick up a friend at the Walmart where he worked and walk around the store until his shift was over.
Then they saw the woman. “I caught on fast,” Harris says. The new plan: follow the silver Lexus, call the police, help.
Arias and Harris are both big fans of Injustice: Gods Among Us, a video game based in the DC Comics universe, and superheroes in general—Arias has a Deadpool tattoo on his left forearm, and Harris has the Flash symbol inked on his abdomen. So it makes some sense that it would be these two suddenly cast as a real-life, crime-fighting, dynamic duo.
But here is the part that doesn’t make sense, at least on first glance, at least not to me: what they were doing together in the first place.
When I first heard about Arias and Harris, I was fascinated. Not by their act of heroism, though that was certainly out of the ordinary and clearly incredible. No, as I watched them tell their story to reporters and later on The View, it was their relationship that struck me. Forget everything else—the two-year age gap is generally a deal breaker for teenagers. They came across as the kind of teenage odd-couple best friends you only find in kid-friendly sitcoms on Nickelodeon and the Disney Channel. I’ll admit it: I judged this book by its cover, and the book appeared to be a novelization of the darkest, grittiest episode of Drake & Josh ever.
After having met them, I don’t think I was that far off. There is no grand story behind their friendship, just enough of a setup to get a pilot approved. They met at Seagoville High School when Harris needed help with a video project for a class, and Arias happened to be in the example from the year before the teacher showed. “I had the funniest one of all of ’em,” Arias says. He offered to help Harris. “That’s how we became friends.”
That’s how they ended up at that stoplight a couple of years later. They followed the silver Lexus east for almost half an hour, Arias staying in contact with the police the entire time. The cops finally caught up with both cars in Kaufman and rescued the woman. The boys were parked at a nearby gas station. They walked over to her, and she hugged them.
Nothing happened for a few weeks. One of Arias’ brothers, a DISD cop, didn’t really believe him. But then Arias told the story to another brother, and that brother immediately started calling reporters. Within a week, their story was everywhere and they were on their way to New York (the first time either had been).
Now they are back to being regular teenagers, intensely polite and low-key proud of what they did (“It was pretty cool, because there was a lesson behind it,” Harris says). Arias recently started school at Texas A&M University’s new Texarkana campus, coming home on weekends. Harris is a senior at Seagoville High, planning to go to Texas A&M (in College Station) or join the Air Force.
Life is pulling them apart as casually as it united them. This Nickelodeon show could even go on hiatus soon. But they’ll always have one perfect episode to remember.