‘A hard, hard morning’: Texas high school football team mourns player killed by police
The grieving teenage boys gathered Monday at 8 a.m., an hour before class began on what should have been their first day of spring football practice at a school in a state where the gridiron brings people together.
But instead of putting on pads and working out, they wept, they seethed and they prayed.
And then the members of the Mesquite High School football teams walked across their athletic field house, toward the family of their dead friend, and offered all they could — hugs, one by one.
“It was a hard, hard morning,” football coach Jeff Fleener told The Washington Post, “and one of those things they don’t ever prepare you for as a coach.”
It had been 33 hours since Jordan Edwards, a 15-year-old freshman team player and model student, was fatally shot in the head while leaving a party in the Dallas suburb of Balch Springs. The bullets came from the gun of a police officer, authorities said, but it remains unclear what provoked the shooting.
Initially, Balch Springs Police Chief Jonathan Haber said one of his officers opened fire after an “unknown altercation” with a vehicle that backed toward police in an “aggressive manner.” By Monday afternoon, Haber had retracted that narrative. Body camera footage, he said, revealed the vehicle had actually backed up and then started to drive away when the officer started shooting.
“After reviewing the video,” Haber said, “I don’t believe that [the shooting] met our core values.”
From the beginning, the family’s attorney, Lee Merritt, has maintained that the shooting was unprovoked and unjust. Jordan, he said, was at a party with friends Saturday night when they heard that police were on the way.
As they went outside to the car, Jordan and the four other teen boys with him saw flashlights and heard gunshots, Merritt said. They backed out of their parking spot and apparently heard someone yell profanities. Then more gunshots ripped into the car.
The boys fled a block before realizing Jordan, whose forehead was smoking, had been shot through the front passenger window, Merritt said. The driver of the car, Jordan’s 16-year-old brother, stopped and flagged down an approaching police cruiser for help.
Jordan was pronounced dead at the hospital. He was killed by a rifle wound to the head, the Dallas County Medical Examiner’s office said Monday.
#JordanEdwards funeral services —
Wake Friday from 7-9pm.
Funeral Saturday at 11am.
Mesquite Friendship Baptist Church pic.twitter.com/D2WpHStEtn
— Homa Bash (@HomaBashNBC5) May 2, 2017
“We are declaring war on bad policing,” Merritt said at a news conference Monday with Jordan’s parents, Charmaine and Odell Edwards. “This has happened far too often. We are tired of making the same rhetorical demands, and having the same hashtags. Our community is fed up.”
It remains unclear who fired the first round of gunshots Saturday night. Merritt said the teens in the car had no weapons, were not drinking and have not been charged with any crimes.
In his initial statement, Chief Haber said that his officers first responded to the home on Baron Drive after a 911 call reported drunk teenagers in the neighborhood. They heard gunshots after they arrived on the scene, police said.
Neighbors told the Dallas Morning News that about 100 teens were at the party Saturday night and that their cars were blocking people’s driveways. Dora Daniels, who lives on Baron Drive, said it was her son who called police and asked them to check out the party for possible underage drinking, the Morning News reported.
Daniels could not say with certainty that there was alcohol at the party. It was held inside the home of Lisa Roberson, whose son threw it without permission while she was out of town, she told the Morning News. Roberson’s son told her there was no drinking in the house.
The first three to four shots Saturday sounded as if they came from a pistol or small gun, neighbors told the Dallas newspaper. Two or three more rounds rang out, they said, then three more from what sounded like a large gun, perhaps a rifle. They did not see who fired the shots.
At the news conference Monday, Merritt said that there is no reason for “mundane” police calls to end in violence.
“America must figure out a way to police its citizens without killing them,” he said. “It’s not something unreasonable for this family to ask. It’s not something unreasonable for the black community to ask.”
Jordan’s family has said little about the teen, but his friends, coaches and teachers have flooded their social media channels with tributes to him.
You never want your friend to become a hashtag. pic.twitter.com/ZbZXStqdc1
— 25 days. (@moses_davion) May 1, 2017
On Monday, the Mesquite Independent School District said in a statement that Jordan “was a good student who was very well liked by his teachers, coaches and his fellow students.”
“The entire district — especially the staff and students of Mesquite High School — are mourning this terrible loss,” it continued.
Chris Cano, whose son played football with Jordan, told ABC affiliate WFAA that the teen was a “great kid” with “awesome parents.”
“He was not a thug,” Cano said, choking up. “This shouldn’t have happened to him. The kid was well-loved.”
Fleener, Jordan’s head football coach, said the teen earned As and Bs in class and never had a “single discipline issue.”
“His attitude and outlook on everything was just contagious,” the coach said, so much so that other players leaned on Jordan for pep talks. “It’s not a fake picture that people are painting of him.”
Only two months on the job, Fleener admitted he is still learning the names of all 160 boys on the school’s football teams this year. But he met Jordan on day one, he said, and they became “fast friends.”
“He was a kid that was just a coach’s dream,” Fleener told The Post. “If the lights were on and the locker room was open or the weight room was open … he was there. He didn’t want to miss out.”
Several hundred gathering in Balch Springs prayer vigil for 15yr old shot dead in a car by police officer pic.twitter.com/RwnoIaqizh
— Richard Ray (@RichardRayFox4) May 2, 2017
Fleener decided to cancel the team’s first day of full-contact spring practice on Monday and instead asked all 160 players to gather in the athletic field house early before school.
Nearly all of them showed up, Fleener said.
Alongside Jordan’s parents and brother, school counselors and administrators, a local pastor and a city councilman, Fleener said he tried to give the young men permission to grieve.
“It was a heartbreaking and crushing moment to see a bunch of 15- and 16- and 17-year-old kids deal with a very adult issue,” he said. “They needed to not be too proud to ask for help.”
And they weren’t, coming to their coach angry and hurt by a racially charged comment posted on social media about Jordan’s death.
“Do we want to yell at these nameless faces who make statements like that to get people riled up? Absolutely,” Fleener said he told them. “But that’s not how you honor Jordan.”
So instead, many of the players spent the school day inside the field house, writing notes and poems for their friend, then dropping them inside the locker that still bears his name.
The boys have already hatched plans to keep Jordan alive next season. They want to wear helmet decals with the No. 11, Jordan’s freshman team jersey number, and have asked if the senior who wore it on varsity would let Jordan’s brother have No. 11 this year.
Moving forward, Fleener said his message to the team will center on the way Jordan chose to live — with a smile on his face, never wasting a day, relentlessly working hard at the game they all loved.
“So tomorrow,” Fleener said, “we’re going to get back on that football field.”