There came a time -- Maurice was about 10 and Brian Jr. about 4 -- when Brian Wright Sr. realized that his sons would see right through him if he continued living one kind of life while urging them to live another.
He wasn't an ordained minister then and didn't have three college degrees. He was, he said, a "drug and alcohol rehab failure." With divine help, he said, he got clean and stayed clean for the sons he was helping to raise near Homewood's "killing fields."
But it wasn't enough. He lost both sons in February to East End streets that might have claimed him. About three weeks after Maurice was fatally shot, he got a call that Brian had been gunned down, too.
"That's a heck of a thing to hear on the phone," Rev. Wright, 50, of Garfield, said.
The killings of Maurice, 32, and Brian, 26, both of whom had criminal records, are unsolved. Acting Major Crimes Cmdr. Kevin Kraus said investigators are exploring motives and possible links between the cases.
Rev. Wright views the violence as part of an epic struggle between the forces of darkness and light. "I have a very strong belief in spiritual warfare," he said.
He doesn't look like a hellion. In dress clothes, trench coat and fedora, Rev. Wright is the picture of respectability. But the Homewood native chuckles at how he was kicked out of Allderdice, Peabody, Westinghouse and Wilkinsburg high schools for behavioral problems.
Growing up, he split his time between Pittsburgh and Detroit. He said he was raised mostly by his grandmother and harbored resentment for peers who had mothers and fathers in their lives. He graduated from a Detroit high school in 1981 and joined the Army.
Even then, he said, he struggled with alcohol and drugs.
He met the boys' mother, Carmen, in 1984. She was in a local band, and Rev. Wright, a singer, caught up with the group while home on leave from the Army.
Maurice Bruce, Carmen's son from a previous relationship, was 3. One day, he said, Maurice called him "Dad," and he vowed to live up to the word.
Rev. Wright said he hung out with Maurice and other neighborhood kids -- the kind of thing his dad didn't do with him -- and taught Maurice how to count money. "I told him, what you can count, you can keep."
He said Maurice was a loving child, smart and usually well behaved. Once, Rev. Wright visited his school and saw him "cutting up. And we dealt with that," he said.
Even before Brian Jr. arrived in 1987, Rev. Wright said, he taught Maurice the importance of looking out for his younger brother. He said Maurice's help was needed partly because he was distracted part of the time, still "living in a life of drugs and alcohol and addiction."
Brother so bonded with brother that Brian took the nickname "Lil Brucey." A sister, Carmen, came in 1990. Maurice was a talented football player at Westinghouse; Brian was musically gifted.
In 1991, Rev. Wright decided to get clean. He relapsed, went back into recovery and has been clean since 1992. At the time, the family lived on Formosa Way, a Homewood street known for drug activity.
"To stay off drugs in that environment was nothing short of an act of God, so I take no credit, believing my steps were ordered," Rev. Wright said.
Brian was smart but posed behavioral challenges, he said.
In 1998, when Brian was 11, police charged Rev. Wright with assault for repeatedly striking him with a belt. He also was charged with endangering the welfare of a child for not getting Brian medical attention for the lacerations, which were still visible days later, according to court records. Rev. Wright received probation after pleading no contest to a reduced charge of reckless endangerment, according to the records.
Later, Brian, who had started a record label, helped to produce a series of videos that foreshadowed the manner of his death. The videos, posted on YouTube, depict the culture of poverty and violence that confronts young black males in Homewood. They include graphic images and portrayals of killings.
Rev. Wright said Brian's rap music masked the breadth of his intellect. He said Brian favored a sentiment attributed to the columnist Erma Bombeck: "When I stand before God at the end of my life, I would hope that I would not have a single bit of talent left, and could say, 'I used everything you gave me.' "
Brian sang at Rev. Wright's 50th birthday party in November, and the video of that performance means a lot to his father now. It's a small part of what sustains him.
"He is strong in his faith. His faith has been carrying him through this ordeal," said city Councilman Ricky Burgess, who represents Homewood and is pastor of Nazarene Baptist Church there. Rev. Burgess once employed Rev. Wright at a Homewood nonprofit that worked with at-risk youths.
Rev. Wright said he talked to his sons about "how to be men" and took steps to improve himself. He racked up an associate degree from Community College of Allegheny County in 1996, a bachelor's from the University of Pittsburgh in 1999 and a master's from Pitt in 2001. All of the degrees were in social work.
In 2011, he was ordained a minister by Restoration Oasis Ministries International.
His sons' paths led to trouble. Maurice received federal prison time for drug sales, state time for aggravated assault and probation for various other offenses. Brian received probation for corruption of minors in a sex case that his father called a misunderstanding.
About 7:30 a.m. Feb. 3, a passer-by spotted Maurice's body in some bushes near Hamilton Avenue and Sterrett Street in Homewood. It appeared that he had been dead a few hours. Brian called his dad to tell him what had happened.
About 2:40 a.m. Feb. 23, Brian was fatally shot at Enterprise Street and Tangent Way in Larimer. Days later, during a vigil he led on that corner, Rev. Wright called for an end to gun violence.
While Rev. Wright views the violence as part of "the fight between Satan and God," Rev. Burgess cited a more organic cause -- poverty -- for such crimes. He said that until the city can remake disadvantaged neighborhoods, diversifying the population and providing new opportunities to those already living there, young people will continue to be seduced by drugs and gangs.
Rev. Wright -- who works at a cleaning company, sometimes preaches at Dunamis Baptist Church in Wilkinsburg and is starting a nonprofit called My Father's Business -- said he and his sons had no unfinished business together.
As for his sons' killers, Rev. Wright had this to say: "My prayer is that God would use them to save themselves and somebody else, too."homepage - neigh_city
Joe Smydo: email@example.com or 412-263-1548.