By Jon Schmitz, Liz Navratil and Michael A. Fuoco / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Darrell Ross had a rough upbringing in Brownsville, but after his mother died about two years ago he went to live with his maternal grandfather, and at Connellsville Area High School he began to come into his own and thrive.
Mr. Ross, 17, a junior, was a star athlete on the football team, where he was a wide receiver, and on the baseball team, where he was a left-handed pitcher. Division I schools were already looking at him, including the University of Pittsburgh, whose coaches came to watch him play against Penn-Trafford High School this football season, said David McDonald, the Connellsville Area High School assistant principal and head football coach.
Added to the athletic gift that made him successful on the playing field was a personality that garnered him equal success in the high school environmentitself, Mr. McDonald said.
“Darrell had the ability to light up a room with his smile. He would make people laugh,” Mr. McDonald said. “He had a dynamic personality and was a popular kid.
“He had only been here a couple of years and we were trying to show him he had a bright future ahead of him from an athletic standpoint. Whether it was football or baseball, it came really easily for him.”
Mr. Ross’s trajectory toward that bright future was halted in the flash of a single shot to his head from a stolen handgun in an upstairs bedroom inside a home on Murray Avenue in Uniontown, a town along with Brownsville that he frequented because of cousins and other family members living there. Police found his body Thursday after being dispatched about 7 p.m.
“He had friends in Brownsville and Uniontown and he was very loyal to them, and cousins there who were very important to him,” Mr. McDonald said.
Hasani Simpkins, 20, who Uniontown police found hiding near the scene, was charged with homicide and related charges in the case, admitting to police he fired the fatal shot, police said. The motive remains unknown.
Mr. McDonald, who along with his family had a special relationship with Mr. Ross. He was shocked that his protege would die from such violence.
“I knew Darrell from the time he spent time with me and my family that he was loving and generous and caring and I knew how he was as teammate and in school in Connellsville. I also knew there was another part of his life I wasn’t privy to, but he wasn’t out to hurt anyone. This is a shock to me.”
And it was to the 1,300 students in the high school, many of whom took advantage of counselors sent to the school Friday morning by other school districts and the Intermediate Unit.
“It’s comforting to see how our students are comforting each other. Connellsville is a good community, and this is a good school. I’m blessed to work here and am so proud of the way the kids are handling this.
“There are a lot of grieving students. You can see from the look of the students that he didn’t just touch one certain group of students.”
Mr. Ross’s grandfather, Pete Casini, approached Mr. McDonald before his grandson moved in with him and asked for help in guiding the young man, an undertaking Mr. McDonald gladly accepted.
“He became intertwined as part of our family. He would visit on weekends and had a special relationship with my wife and daughters. It was something we were all pitching in and trying to do because we saw how much potential he had. He lived 17 years and there were ups and downs. Sometimes he would get mad at me if he didn’t like what I had to say, but we had a special relationship,” Mr. McDonald said.
Jon Schmitz: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1868 and on Twitter @pgtraffic. Michael A. Fuoco: email@example.com or 412-263-1968. Liz Navratil: firstname.lastname@example.org. First Published November 21, 2013 10:33 PM
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