Hundreds mourn teen killed at school

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In a different world, Keith Watts, a teenager who loved football and doing silly things to draw laughs, would go on to be the engineer he dreamed of being.

Robin Rombach, Post-Gazette
The casket of 16-year old Keith Watts, who was killed outside Carrick High School last week, is carried out of Macedonia Baptist Church in the Hill District after his funeral yesterday.
Click photo for larger image.

Instead, the 16-year-old known as "Spudd" to family and friends rested yesterday in a closed, shiny, teal-colored coffin at Macedonia Baptist Church in the Hill District.

Family, friends, neighbors and Watts' classmates at Carrick High School crowded into Macedonia's 800-seat sanctuary along with the interim superintendent of Pittsburgh's schools and two city councilmen to mourn him and to lament what they called an epidemic of violence and an indifferent community.

Watts was killed and two of his friends injured Wednesday in a drive-by shooting near the high school.

The mourners yesterday were left to wonder if things would have turned out differently had the circle gathered last month -- after 14 bullets were fired one night at the Knoxville home where Watts lived with his grandmother.

Chief among those wondering was the Rev. Jason Barr, who presided at the emotional funeral. In his 11 years at Macedonia, he's held at least one funeral a year for young African-American men killed violently.

All of them, including Watts, the third homicide victim 18 or under in as many months, needed a good Samaritan, Barr said, citing the story from the Book of Luke about a stranger who showed compassion toward a man beaten and left for dead on the road to Jericho.

"Keith Watts is the representation of an epidemic," said a full-voiced Barr, his red vestments flowing, "a young African-American man being beaten on the road to life."

More than half of the mourners were young people; Carrick reported that about a fifth of the school's 1,300 students were absent yesterday.

Macedonia ushers, dressed in black, guided grandmothers in hats and young men in sweat suits and sports jerseys to the pews. Wails of grief filled the church as ushers stayed busy handing out tissues.

A photo of Watts sat atop the casket, next to an arrangement of white roses. In the photo, he is wearing Army fatigues, a rust-colored jacket and a faint smile.

In talking about the lack of good Samaritans, Barr blamed a nonchalant middle class and uncaring public officials, alluding to Jean Fink, the city school board member whose district includes Carrick.

She did not act like a steward of the community when confronted by neighborhood activists last week, Barr said. Instead, she "talked like a careless, conniving politician. Her whole tone was 'I don't give a rip.' "

Citizens should be Samaritans not just after the killings, shootings, overdoses and tragedy, but before, Barr said.

Fink, reached later, said she thought the protest at her home was unfair and said if she didn't care about the community, she wouldn't have spent 27 years on the school board.

"There's so much grief," she said, "but so much was brought on the family by their lifestyle. It was a horrible way for the child to live, but the kid did not know much but violence."

Watts' father and mother both were killed by gunfire as they sat in parked cars, in separate incidents two years apart.

City Council President Gene Ricciardi, who represents the South Side, and Councilman Bill Peduto, a candidate for mayor, attended the funeral.

"I hope his position didn't have to do with his position in life," said Ricciardi. "I have a feeling that if this was Mt. Lebanon or Fox Chapel, we would have found a way to help."

Pittsburgh Schools interim Superintendent Andrew King said the district was planning a forum to get to the root of turf rivalries -- one of which is believed to have led to Watts' death. "We care about all our students," he said.

King said Watts was not killed on school property and his death was not the result of something the school did or did not do, but rather the consequence of others determined to do violence.

Watts escaped a previous attempt on his life a month earlier, when an assailant fired at him as he returned home from a juvenile delinquency program.

He was killed Wednesday afternoon when a gunman opened fire into Watts' Geo Tracker, parked near the high school. He was wounded in the head and torso and died at the scene.

Police suspect the shooting stemmed from long-standing feuds between students from Beltzhoover and St. Clair Village and was recently fueled by Watts dating a girl from St. Clair.

Also last month, Watts fought with seven other Carrick High students from Beltzhoover and St. Clair and later was found guilty of disorderly conduct and fined.

In the search for a solution, Adrienne Young, director of Tree of Hope, a counseling and outreach service for families hit by violence, said it's important for black political officials to act.

"These are important figures," she said, "and these are [the black community's] children and we can't always look to other people to take care of our people," she said. "We have to start taking care of our own."


Ervin Dyer can be reached at edyer@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1410.


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