Teacher's random assault being linked by some to youths' 'knockout game'

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Brutal, violent and random, the sucker-punch attack by a teenager that knocked out Pittsburgh high school teacher James Addlespurger in a Downtown alley in 2011 is receiving renewed international attention because of similar attacks on strangers happening throughout the U.S. and abroad.

Despite the fact it occurred two years ago, Mr. Addlespurger's assault is being linked by some media outlets to the recent attacks which, they report, are part of a so-called "knockout game," in which unsuspecting pedestrians are cold-cocked by youths with the intention of knocking them out with one punch.

Mr. Addlespurger has been sought out by national and international media -- the three major TV networks, the New York Times, CNN, NBC's "Today" show, ABC's "Nightline," USA TODAY, Russian and Swiss television. The surveillance videotape of his assault has become a staple of broadcast reports, running over and over again.

Surveillance video captures assault on CAPA teacher

Surveillance video provided by the Pittsburgh Police show an apparently unprovoked assault on a CAPA teacher while walking through a Downtown alley. (10/9/2012)

Police in New York, Chicago, Denver, St. Louis and other cities in the U.S. and England are investigating whether the escalating attacks, some caught on video and posted on social media, are part of the knockout game or are unconnected to any disturbing trend other than senseless assaults.

Victims have ranged from a 12-year-old boy to a 78-year-old woman. In Manchester, England, a man died after being punched at a bus stop. In New Jersey, surveillance video shows teenagers running away after punching a man who subsequently had a seizure and died.

Mr. Addlespurger, 51, of Bon Air, doesn't believe his attack by a total stranger was part of any "game," and is put off by use of such a benign term for such a violent act.

"It's a really sick thing to do. I can't imagine seeing a video would make somebody do that. I hope it isn't becoming a copycat thing."

The English literature teacher at Pittsburgh CAPA 6-12, Downtown, said the assault initially "cost me trauma and trust in humanity." But now that he has healed physically and psychologically, he has accepted offers to speak to the media as a platform to voice his concerns that the assaults represent frightening attacks not just on individuals but on society itself that must be addressed.

"People need to do things and create things and be more productive. If they can't, they'll be destructive and that's not good. Kids need to have a metaphorical backpack of social skills and how to act responsibly. It concerns me that some kids have no values and nothing to live for."

Whether the knockout game is even real is under debate. The New York Times reported that police officials in several cities where the attacks have been reported say the knockout game is an urban myth, and that the attacks receiving media attention are simply random assaults. New York officials cautioned they have found no evidence of an organized game spreading among teenagers online but they have been reluctant to rule out the possibility.

"We're trying to determine whether or not this is a real phenomenon," New York police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly told The Times on Nov. 22.

Mr. Addlespurger and his attacker, Dajour Washington, 16, who was released in April after serving nine months in a juvenile facility for aggravated assault, appeared separately on ABC's "Nightline" on Monday. Dajour denied the assault was part of any "game" and was simply "an impulse of stupidity, trying to show off for my friends.

"It was just like, 'Let me knock this guy out, let me hit him,' basically like showing off to let them know I could fight. I feel guilty and embarrassed, ashamed."

Mr. Addlespurger's attack occurred Oct. 4, 2011, around 3:30 p.m. on Tito Way, a well-traveled alley alongside the Benedum Center that runs between Liberty and Penn avenues. Dajour was one of a group of six youths who were walking toward Penn just as Mr. Addlespurger was heading toward Liberty. He stepped toward Mr. Addlespurger, wound up, hit him in the face and watched as Mr. Addlespurger collapsed, his head striking the curb. The group nonchalantly strolled away amid smiles and casual looks back.

Mr. Addlespurger, a locally prominent blues guitar player who uses a stage name to headline the Jimmy Adler Band, said that despite what he has been through, he holds out hope for his attacker.

"He sounded like he felt pretty badly. That's hopeful," he said. "People can change. I hope he can turn his life around. I don't want him to live a life of guilt. I hope he will be productive.

"True nobility is becoming better than your former self. That act of impulsive violence doesn't have to identify him for the rest of his life."

Michael A. Fuoco: mfuoco@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1968.


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