A Year Later: The Duquesne Tragedy Revisited

By Gregory Moore
Updated: September 25, 2007

SAN ANTONIO — Imagine you and four of your teammates are walking down one of the crowded streets at a university on your way to a dance and you decide to talk to a pretty co-ed along the way.

As you are chatting, three of her friends decide to come over and start harassing your teammates and they are brandishing weapons and all. As you run to try and break up a deadly confrontation, the young lady you just talked to turns and tells her crew, “Get those privileged bastards!”

Guns open up on you and your teammates. You are shot in the head. Another one is injured in the leg and shoulder. The crowd that was standing around just milling around and waiting to go into the student union for a dance is now frazzled, scared and in utter amazement that it could happen to them. You and your teammates are black and the young lady and the shooters are black. It took place on a predominantly white campus.

Think this couldn’t happen where you go to school? Parents don’t think that this could happen today at a high school or at an HBCU like Clark Atlanta, Howard or Virginia State?

Well, this week is the one year anniversary of a shooting very similar to what I just described at Duquesne University and it was real, it happened similarly to how the scenario was described and the Duquesne community is still shocked at what took place on their campus and they are still looking for answers.

“It’s a daily reminder,” said Shawn James, a 6-foot-10 junior who was wounded in the left foot. “I don’t think that’s something you ever forget. It’s always in the back of your mind.”

For James and several of his teammates and collegian campus mates, that horrible night of violence has never really brought any answers why a innocent conversation between a teammate and a pretty girl could turn into the crime that could have been a lot worse.

A lot worse like what happened at Virginia Tech, Columbine High School, at Delaware State and even in the small Arkansas town on a school campus several years ago.

For James, teammates Kojo Mensah, Stuard Baldonado, Aaron Jackson and Sam Ashaolu, the year had been extremely rough but they all stuck through it and with each other except with Baldonado, who has been kicked off the team for two arrests involving marijuana and a domestic violence charge down in Florida.

“I’m disappointed in the type of decisions he’s made and I’m disappointed for the blatant disregard he had for team policies,” Duquesne coach Ron Everhart said of Baldonado to the local Pittsburgh media.

“I’m even more disappointed that he didn’t have a higher level of being thankful and appreciate that he was given a second chance [after being wounded] to play college basketball.”

If you listen to Everhart, it sounds like Baldonado won’t be playing for the school ever again and under the circumstances, Everhart has every right to protect the integrity of his team.

But last year, Everhart couldn’t protect these young men from the unforeseeable confrontation and that just didn’t sit well with him or school officials.

“It takes me back and is a reminder about how much uncertainty there is in life,” Everhart said. “You do want to forget it, but there’s no way you possibly can. I think about it all the time and almost relate it to everything you do.”

“It’s such a miracle the kids were able to recover and get back to basketball and a normal campus life.” A normal life is what this school deserves but this community also deserves justice for what has happened to them.

The assailants, William Holmes, Derek Lee and Erica Sager were ordered to stand trial and that trial or trials will be taking place probably within the next few weeks.

For the players who were involved in the shooting, a lot of unresolved psychological issues could resurface at a time when they just want some normalcy in their lives.

This week, a memorial service about the anniversary of the shooting was planned for Monday of this week and hopefully that could bring some solace to the Dukie family.

“Hopefully, Sept. 17 will be just another day,” Jackson said. “I don’t dwell on it, and I don’t look at it as a tragic day. But now I don’t take anything for granted. I understand that people care about how we’re doing and they acknowledge what happened, but I don’t know if I want to make it a bigger day than it is.”

Jackson and his teammates are indeed a story that may have gotten shuffled to a closet somewhere but these young men and a college community deserve some answers as to why that fateful event took place. Those answers are going to hopefully come from the upcoming trials of Holmes, Lee and Sager.

For a community that had witnessed three young black men and woman infest a surreal scene of camaraderie and college student activity with the avenue of black on black crime, they are going to have to answer some hard questions as to why they started such a sordid scene.

And as painfully as it may seem for their families, these three social outcasts must now understand that they are now very much despised in their own community.

Last year about this time the basketball players were just doing what college students do; hang out and have fun. What started out as an innocent conversation between two college co-eds suddenly got ugly and violent for no reason.

Sager will have to answer as to why she instigated this tragedy. Holmes and Lee will have realize that they allowed their misguided thought processes of bravado could have turned out to be a lot worse.

But more importantly when their trials commence, they need to start preparing themselves for the ultimate question that the Duquesne campus still asks to this day: Why did this happen on our campus?

Right now there are no real answers even a year after the shooting but they will come soon and for Jackson and his teammates, along with the Duquesne community, hopefully the three assailants on trial can provide them with the answers they are seeking and the closure they so richly deserve.

The innocence of college life may have changed forever at Duquesne but hopefully a vigil along with the trial may be some solace of getting answers to burning questions and help other campuses help thwart such a tragedy as this.