For the past year at Fairfax High School, 16-year-old Demetrius Rice’s dream was to be a starter for the school’s varsity football team.
He was neither the quickest nor the strongest on the field. Maybe he was a little better than average, but he kept plugging away, honing his skills as a wide receiver and testing the limits of his potential.
But in a horrible instant Thursday, the hopes and dreams of Demetrius Rice came to an end. A stray bullet fired by a fellow student killed Rice.
For his friends and teachers, it was a bullet that, in many ways, struck at the heart of this school.
“He was just a real nice kid,” said Fairfax High School varsity football coach Terrel Ray. “Today, we focus in on the kids with attitude, the ones who are expressing themselves in the wrong ways. But there are plenty of Demetrius Rices out there. They go to school, they study, they plan for the future. They’re like the invisible man.”
Friends said that Rice, a junior, was a quiet and unassuming youth who never looked for trouble and always worked hard.
“Just about everybody knew him,” said student Khalid Warren as he stood in front of the school, staring blankly through the crowd. “I don’t see how he could have got shot. He wasn’t that type of person. No one disliked him.”
Students across the campus were stunned by the news of Rice’s death.
Outside the campus, a fellow football player at first waved off reports that Rice was dead, saying it could not be Demetrius; he was not a gang member or a troublemaker or the kind to say a cross word to a schoolmate.
The youth with the gun “couldn’t have been trying to hit Demetrius,” said Jeremy Robinson, a 12th-grader who played defensive tackle. “He’s real cool, everybody liked him.”
But as the rumors began to solidify into fact, the drained look of shock appeared on the faces of Rice’s fellow students.
Amber Williams, who was in class with Rice when the shooting occurred, said: “He was so nice, and really cute . . . tall . . . pretty eyes. He was dressed so nice today.”
Ray, the varsity coach, described Rice as one of the students who exist in the broad middle ground between the extremes of trouble that can beset young people.
“He was one of those who go about their day, quietly making things positive for all concerned,” he said. “They’re like a buffer--they socialize with the people who are kind of loud and negative, and they will talk with adults and teachers and help them understand what’s going on.”
Ray said that Rice recently had been promoted to the Fairfax varsity team. He was not a starter, but he got a lot of playing time as a wide receiver and a defensive back.
Craig Scott, assistant football coach, said that what impressed him about Rice was that he was getting better all the time. This year, he stood a chance of making the all-league team.
“I don’t know the circumstances of the shooting, but I am very bitter about it all,” Scott said. “He could have become a standout in his senior year, but we’ll never know for sure, will we? He never got a damn chance.”