Disbelief. Shock. Sadness. Anger. The Washington & Jefferson College community gathered for a candlelight vigil to remember Tim McNerney, a 21-year-old business major and standout football player who was killed early Thursday morning one block from campus.
Students stood silently, several weeping and fighting back tears throughout the hour-long vigil held on the lawn in front of the Burnett Center, many in disbelief that a tragedy of such magnitude could hit the idyllic campus.
McNerney’s family sat in chairs in the front row and held onto each other.
McNerney died of blunt force trauma to the head after he was found off campus and taken to the Wahsington Hospital, where he was pronounced dead at 4:42 a.m.
“It is a tragedy we cannot even put in words,” said W&J President Tori Haring-Smith, who called McNerney a remarkable young man. “I think what we need to remember is how Tim touched each of us, what he taught us, how he modeled for us the kind of person we all hope we can be.”
McNerney’s teammates talked about the impact McNerney had on their lives, describing him as a fun-loving young man, a good friend and motivator.
DeAndre Simmons, who said McNerney was his best friend from the first day he arrived on campus, called McNerney “fearless.”
“Tim meant the world to me. He was my brother. I wish I could have told him I loved him every day,” said Simmons.
Another teammate described how he had planned to spend Easter break of their freshman year on campus because he lived out of state, but McNerney invited him to his home in Butler and the McNerney family welcomed him and turned it into his most memorable Easter.
Student government president Damian Bosiacki recalled how McNerney electrified the crowd at the college’s fall concert with his rapping.
“He was so happy up there,” said Bosiacki, who described how an exhilarated McNerney said Bosiacki should keep on working on comedy and he would keep on rapping.
“Thinking about that moment, it kills me to think that he’s not with us anymore, but that’s just a source of motivation. Dream. Go big; if you think of it, you can do it,” said Bosiacki, saying that’s how McNerney approached his life.
Fighting back tears, head football coach Mike Sirianni called McNerney one of the favorite football players he ever coached and called the people responsible for McNerney’s death “cowards.”
“Part of me is very mad,” said Sirianni. “But those cowards who took Tim’s life cannot take away the spirit of Tim’s family, or the spirit of our football team and this community.”
During the ceremony - so many people attended that the college ran out of candles - the Rev. Robert Vandekappelle, W&J Chaplain, and the Rev. Gary Gibson, Hospice Care pastor at Washington Hospital, who was with the McNerney family at the hospital, asked for the community to support each other and lean on each other.
“We gather on this campus tonight to mourn and to grieve, but we do that tonight as more than a college campus, we do that as a community,” said Rev. Gibson. “We do that more as a community and as a country as we think about the incredible All-American that Tim was.”
Hundreds stayed after the vigil to sign a memory book that will be presented to the McNerney family and to view a small memorial area that included flowers, candles and a portrait of McNerney in his black and red football uniform.
As the vigil came to a close, McNerney’s uncle, Keith Schanck, strode to the podium, gripped it tightly, and said, voice breaking, “Speak out against violence. Speak out against violence. So senseless. Be aware of your surroundings. Be aware of each action you take in life; they all have consequences, good and bad. Call your parents, tell them you love them, call your sister, tell her you love her, call your brother, tell him you love him because it changes so fast. Love one another. It’s so simple.”