A community torn not soon repaired

August 26, 2014

Young men and women are returning to Washington & Jefferson College this week, beginning another chapter in their lives just as the tragic tale of a fellow student reached its conclusion.

It was almost two years ago, in the early morning hours of Oct. 4, 2012, that football teammates Tim McNerney and Zack DeCicco were walking back to campus from a South Main Street tavern when their path crossed those of three men whose intent was robbery. One of those men, Eric Wells, punched McNerney, who fell, hitting his head against a brick wall – a blow that proved fatal. Many months later, police used the tracking device on McNerney’s phone to capture Wells and his two companions, Adam Hankins and Troy Simmons. They were eventually convicted in a nonjury trial before visiting Allegheny County Judge Edward Borkowski, who Monday sentenced them to prison sentences ranging from seven to 31 years. The killing, as Washington County District Attorney Gene Vittone put it, “tore a hole in the community.” The hunt for his killers was long and frustrating for McNerney’s family as well as for local residents and the college community. All yearned for closure.

Monday’s sentencing may have shut the book on the case, but “closure” in these circumstances is no more than an illusion.

Such a senseless act damaged and destroyed too many lives to simply go away.

“I lost what’s most valuable in my world,” McNerney’s mother said at the sentencing hearing. The pain of that kind of loss can never really go away.

The psychological damage, too, will not soon diminish. College students and city residents, understandably, do not feel safe, and the fear and prejudice caused by such incidents is an aggressive infection.

Destroyed, too, are the lives of the perpetrators who may spend 10 or 20 years or longer in prisons that have become colleges of crime and cruelty. How likely is it that after serving their terms they find jobs and become productive and nonviolent citizens? The odds are depressingly small.

All this damage resulted from what Judge Borkowski called, “an unfortunate crime of opportunity fueled by alcohol and ego.”

Simmons, one of the attackers, said Monday, “My actions were selfish, they were stupid, they were reckless.”

How much different things would be if he recognized that before the attack, rather than after it.



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