Jon Broyhill and Nation Hahn’s unusual bond, stunning break

jshaffer@newsobserver.comApril 27, 2013 

Jon Broyhill (left) with Jamie Hahn (center) and her husband Nation Hahn.

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Their friendship began in the Pentecostal church, teenage chums in a fading furniture town.

They spent every day together in rural Lenoir, their lives revolving around youth group, prayer meetings and sleepovers. They passed afternoons at the local coffee and waffle shop, joking with a handful of church friends. They clicked.

But it wasn’t always an obvious friendship.

Nation Hahn had a zeal for liberal politics even as a teen, a rarity in the foothills of Caldwell County. He took Advanced Placement classes at Hibriten High. He graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill. He moved quickly into Democratic Party circles after college, rubbing shoulders with big names.

Jon Broyhill grew up conservative, graduating from Harris Chapel Christian Academy. He didn’t go to college. He worked at Lowes Foods in Lenoir after high school. He declared bankruptcy at age 23, owing more than $32,000.

On Monday, Raleigh police drew up arrest warrants for Broyhill, 31, in the stabbing of Hahn’s wife, Jamie, in their North Raleigh home. Broyhill had served as best man at the couple’s 2009 wedding and had worked for her political consulting firm Sky Blue Strategies. He was at WakeMed all week with self-inflicted wounds, and police say they will charge him with murder.

One of the most intriguing questions in a case that has dozens is why Nation Hahn and Broyhill remained inseparable.

As he grew older, Broyhill began to share Hahn’s liberal outlook, followed him to the Triangle and joined him in promoting the causes and candidates of the Democratic Party. Former U.S. Rep. Brad Miller, a Raleigh Democrat who served until early this year, said Broyhill would sit next to him while he made phone calls and went with him to campaign events.

But in recent weeks, Hahn was actively trying to find a job for his old friend from Whitnel Pentecostal Holiness Church.

It all goes back to Lenoir.

Life in Caldwell County

If your name is Broyhill in Caldwell County, people assume you’re related to the furniture-making family whose plants have employed thousands, or to James T. Broyhill, the retired senator or congressman.

Jon Broyhill isn’t, at least not in any meaningful way.

When they went out to a waffle restaurant, friends would tease him about the thin connection to wealth and power, saying, “Lunch is on Jon today.”

Hahn’s life wasn’t a smooth ride, either. Numerous friends said he was raised by an aunt and uncle after being born to a teen mother.

The church was their center.

In younger years, Hahn was quiet and sort of a tagalong. Broyhill would talk to anybody.

As they aged, friends say their roles reversed a bit. Hahn was more confident. Everybody knew he’d pursue a political career. At the coffee shop, friends would often argue amicably about politics, and Nation frequently found himself staking out positions by himself.

He found himself in a strange incident in 2003 when a classmate sprayed him with nitric acid in the middle of their AP chemistry class – as a joke, police told The Charlotte Observer at the time. Hahn suffered severe burns to his calf, and his parents sued both the fellow student and the Caldwell County Board of Education – a case that also ended up at the State Bar with a complaint against their attorney.

For Hahn, it was an early civics lesson.

Meanwhile, Broyhill turned shy but friendly at the nearby Christian school.

“He was a kind student, soft-spoken,” said Allen Norrod, principal at Harris Chapel. “He had fun. He was not a troublemaker at all.”

Political interest grows

Four years older than Hahn, Broyhill finished high school in 2000. He took a job as a warehouse manager at a decorating firm, then customer service manager at Lowes, staying at home in Lenoir.

But all that time, friends say, Hahn’s influence grew.

The younger friend went to Chapel Hill in 2004 and immediately jumped into presidential politics. The Chapel Hill Herald found him at a rally on the UNC-CH campus that year, showing his support for the John Kerry/John Edwards campaign and skepticism for the Iraq War.

“Most people don’t want to go off to war, especially a war that a lot of people don’t think is for a good reason,” he said at the time.

That fall, back in Caldwell County, Broyhill switched his party affiliation from Republican to Democrat.

Around the same time, he had trouble managing his personal life.

He filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in 2005 while still living at his parents’ address, court records show.

Broyhill had run up debts on seven credit cards and taken out five loans, most of them cash-advance. His total liabilities came to $32,453, and he had $28 in the bank, according to court records.

Later, around the time Hahn was working as an intern in John Edwards’ presidential campaign, Broyhill was carpooling to Charlotte on the weekends to help man a souvenir booth at the Carolina Panthers football stadium.

Friend Amy Holsclaw recalled their trips for home games.

“He was quiet,” she said. “If you got to know him, he was great. He was funny. He would never have harmed anyone.”

She recalled him talking about his friend Nation, who was going to marry a girl named Jamie whom Nation met in the Edwards campaign.

On the rise

Jamie Kirk Hahn had become a well-respected political strategist in North Carolina before she turned 30.

Also a UNC-CH graduate, she served as deputy North Carolina finance director for Edwards and later North Carolina finance director for U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan.

She founded Sky Blue in 2008, and she had reported raising more than $4 million for causes around the state. Married in 2009, she and Hahn were quickly morphing into a Raleigh couple on the rise, taking on prominent roles in Democratic Party efforts, especially the failed push to keep the state from defining marriage as solely between a man and a woman.

Nation Hahn became a constant social media presence, racking up more than 47,000 tweets on his personal Twitter account, serving as the senior online strategist for the Coalition to Protect All NC Families.

Last year, he spoke of his hometown in a piece that appeared in The Huffington Post.

“The people in my hometown of Lenoir have been left behind for decades by our political and business leaders,” he wrote. “For the most part, shifts to the global economy of the 21st century have meant jobs leaving rather than coming. For many in my own family and my old neighborhood, these shifts are a threat. People’s fear has left them in disarray which has, in turn, allowed cynical political operatives to urge them to ‘take our country back’ and issue clarion calls to return to ‘the good old days.’ ”

Tori Taylor, whom Jamie Hahn hired while she was still in college, remembered the couple’s infectious optimism.

“There’s one universal thing you can say about them,” she said. “I never heard them negative. When people were frustrated about a campaign. It was never ‘We’re down and we’re staying down.’ ”

Broyhill joined them in Raleigh in roughly 2009, and Jamie Hahn took him on at Sky Blue. Soon, he was working alongside some of the state’s top Democrats, including Miller, who hired Sky Blue to help with fundraising in his 2012 campaign.

“I spent a lot of time with Jon,” Miller, the ex-congressman said Wednesday. “Jon would sit with me when I made calls. Jamie might send Jon with me to events.”

Trouble in Raleigh

The three were together so often that neighbors believed Broyhill was living with the Hahns on Tealwood Place in North Raleigh. Jamie Hahn posted Jon’s recipe for corn salad online. His Volvo was always parked outside the couple’s home.

“It’s been there awhile, for a few months,” said Tim Sonnenberg, 17, who lives across the street from the home.

Pictures of the three of them are scattered across Facebook and Instagram, smiling and sipping drinks.

But trouble followed Broyhill to Raleigh.

In October, the Federal Elections Commission sent Miller’s campaign treasurer, John Wallace, a letter requesting more information about documents that showed donors receiving refunds from the campaign in amounts that were in excess of what they had contributed. The reports show Miller’s campaign wrote five checks, all in April 2012, totaling $15,900.

Miller said that Broyhill would have been the principal person with access to campaign-finance software and that he made statements about the campaign’s money that was contradicted by other information.

Jamie Hahn had likely confronted him about it, he said.

Also, Broyhill had told friends that he was suffering both from pancreatic cancer and from multiple sclerosis – a diagnosis that was at least partially untrue. After congregants were asked to pray for him at Pullen Memorial Baptist Church, where he was active, it was revealed last week that the cancer didn’t exist.

On Monday evening, Jamie Hahn was stabbed, and she fled out of the side door of her home. Blood trailed down the driveway, marking her escape.

On Tuesday night, not long before Jamie Hahn died, her husband briefly left her bedside to speak before a crowd gathered at a vigil at Pullen.

There, his thoughts turned to his old friend from Lenoir, and he struck a note of kindness even in his grief.

“She would be the first one to forgive this act of violence against her,” he said.

Staff writers Thomasi McDonald and Anne Blythe and news researcher Brooke Cain contributed to this report.

Shaffer: 919-829-4818