Lawrence Sellers wants to know why. Why a simple stroll through the school park can now mean the difference between life and death. Why his friend and classmate now stands as a sad testament to such madness and why his girlfriend may have well suffered a similar fate if he hadn’t been willing to take a bullet in her stead.
Sellers,17, was there at Harsh Park that day, “chilling” with about a dozen or so friends and classmates when a wayward gunman, a triggerman police now identify as being only months older than him, crept up and began spraying. He was there, again tearfully bearing witness, as 15-year-old Hadiya Pendleton took a few of her last breaths. Now, his mind just won’t let him leave the scene.
In those few fleeting seconds, the still-recovering teen now realizes his life forever changed. “The whole thing keeps replaying in mind…I just can’t understand why someone would want to shoot at another a person, a person they don’t even know,” he said. “I bet Hadiya felt the same way I feel right now…I bet she’s still wondering why.”
Why, indeed? Why and how could a city as renowned and distinguished as Chi-Town ever find itself in the throes of an epidemic so tragically senseless? On the heels of a year when the city recorded a heart-wrenching (though not hardly record setting) 508 homicides, slayings are already on pace in 2013 to even eclipse that mark. The pain increases when once realizes that nearly half of all the city’s 2,839 homicides over the last four years have involved victims killed before so much as their 25th birthday.
If not for Sellers' quick-thinking nature and fearless spirit, friends at Harsh that day fear both figures could now be even higher.
“That could have been me. I owe you so much. I love you so much. Thank you,” girlfriend Danetria Hutson tweeted in the aftermath. “Takes a strong person to take a bullet for someone else; Lawrence really is a hero,” read another classmate’s declaration.
As Sellers was moving to usher his girlfriend to safety, a bullet was tearing through his left leg, leaving a wound so severe doctors have already advised him his favorite skateboard will be rendered totally useless for at least the foreseeable future.
He’s been forced to add grief counseling sessions to his regular routine and, at least while he’s still on crutches, is only allowed to travel back and forth to King College Prep via private bus service.
“They said I’ll never dunk a basketball again,” he adds of his highly-skilled team of physicians. “Bet I prove them wrong.”
On her son putting himself in harm’s way to protect another, Tanya Sellers would tell you that’s precisely the focused and determined child she’s prided herself on rearing over the last nearly two decades.
“He’s a protector, always has been, so I wasn’t the least bit surprised to hear that he had gone out of his way to make sure others were alright,” she said. And yet, she confesses to being a bit perplexed by his actions, feeling what she calls “two-fold emotions.”
“They were definitely mixed,” she said. “Absolutely, I’m proud of what he did, but the mother in me was terrified over what he had to risk to achieve it. As bad as all this has been, my stomach is still in knots over how much worse it could have been.”
Mom and the world should know that felt he had little choice, should know that in his mind his reasoning was clear and his motivation, simple. “Me and Hadiya were cool, real cool,” he said. “We were all friends. If, as friends, we can’t be there for each other—what’s left for any of us?”
They should also know the lifelong Eagle Scout is determined not to allow the worse of his experiences to come to exemplify the essence of his being. “We didn’t go looking for trouble and that’s the thing,” he said. “It’s just crazy, hard to put into words. There are so many kids getting shot and dying, good kids. It’s just not fair, but we still have to be human. ”
In Lawrence Sellers’ world, that all translates into staying true to who he is, staying true to the virtues instilled in him by his mom and his father, an ordained minister.
“Yeah, you’re angry; yeah, there’s stuff you don’t understand,” he admits. “But in your heart, you know you just don’t go around shooting people. I know I won’t be that person and don’t want to be friends with anyone who would.”
As the young man reflected upon more and more of his most heartfelt truths, his father flashed an uneasy smile and gentle nod in his son’s direction.
“I’m proud of him,” said Reverend Larry Sellers. “He’s hurting right now, but he’s a great kid whose heart is in the right place. Right now, he just wants to know why and I wish I had an answer for him.”
We all do.
Glenn Minnis is a veteran sports and culture writer who has contributed to the likes of ESPN, Vibe and the NFL Magazine. He has also been on staff at AOL Sports, the Chicago Tribune and was the founding sports editor for 360HipHop.com. You can follow him on Twitter at