Justin Schley had just finished one wonderful part of his life and was about to begin another.
Then came tragedy.
Schley, a star running back and co-captain, popular man-about-school and recent graduate of Bishop McDevitt High, in Wyncote, died Sunday night at his West Oak Lane home. His mother, Michelle Schley, said he died of an accidental gunshot to his head.
Police confirmed that they've ruled Schley's death an accident.
"It was horseplay that went wrong," Michelle Schley said. "One kid trying to impress another. It happened in our house just before Justin and his friend were heading out for a party.
"There's a gun. Justin thought he'd emptied it of all the bullets . . . "
Michelle Schley said Justin, her only child, loved children and volunteered his time at a nearby recreation center and church. At least 40 of his friends, she said, have visited her home, on Smedley Street near Godfrey, to provide comfort and share memories.
"I'm holding up pretty well," she said. "God has given me so much strength. I'm not sure when I'm going to fall, but for now I'm doing OK.
"I'm thanking God for the time He allowed me to have Justin. It was a wonderful experience. And I keep hearing such nice things from the kids who knew him. They all seemed to love him."
Matt Davis, a 2008 McDevitt alumnus, said of Schley: "I was close to Justin in high school and he was just a great individual. Hard to find someone more outgoing and genuine."
Schley would have started summer classes next Monday at Millersville, which had signed him for football.
At McDevitt, his senior season began with a downer. Coach Pat Manzi said Schley suffered a bruised kidney in the Lancers' first scrimmage, vs. Roman Catholic. The injury caused him to miss the first four games. He returned for the final five, rushing 71 times for 348 yards and three touchdowns.
On June 1, Schley was one of five McDevitt seniors to help South upset North in the Montgomery County All-Star Game.
"Justin was well-respected by the McDevitt community," Manzi said. "He was a captain who led by example. After his injury, he remained focused. He came to practice every day to contribute any way he could and help his teammates."
Manzi said he'd spoken with some of his players about the tragedy. "You don't think about death at that age," he said. "This reminds you how fragile life can be."
Justin's last name is pronounced so it rhymes with "fly." However, the public-address announcer at McDevitt's football games, the Rev. Bill Chiriaco, took the liberty of altering the pronounciation so he could break out this all-time nickname - Justin "One Horse Open" Schley.
The nickname, as you could imagine, drew laughter every time Chiriaco used it.
Among those who enjoyed it the most: Justin himself.
Services will be held Tuesday, June 30, at Enon Tabernacle Baptist Church West, 230 W. Coulter St., in West Germantown. Viewing is from 9 to 10 a.m., with the funeral to follow. *