CHRISTIAN Massey would proudly walk around the Marple Newtown High School halls in his black football jersey, his overgrown teddy-bear persona and engaging smile welcoming anyone who greeted him.
He was always willing to do anything to belong. Although he had never played lacrosse, he was more than happy to be the team's goalie one year, since they didn't have one. He had a visceral urge to please.
It's why it was so hard to fathom the news that Massey had been gunned down in Overbrook, shot in the chest in the driveway of a home on Lebanon Avenue near 58th Street over a $300 pair of Beats by Dr. Dre headphones Saturday afternoon.
Officers took Massey to the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, where he was pronounced dead later that evening, according to police.
No arrests had been made as of last night.
To those who knew him, taught him or coached him, the news came as a shock, as if they lost a family member. Massey was a hulking 6-foot-2, 300-pound mentally challenged 21-year-old who was left as a ward of the state when he was 12 and attended Marple Newtown for six years, graduating in June.
He holds a special place in the hearts of those at Marple Newtown because they knew the struggles and obstacles he endured.
He went from the now-defunct Don Guanella School, an Archdiocese of Philadelphia facility for special-needs boys in Springfield, Delaware County, to being mainstreamed into the Marple Newtown School District. As part of a special program Marple Newtown had in conjunction with Don Guanella, Massey was able to play two years of varsity football and one year of varsity basketball for the Tigers.
When he wasn't playing football or basketball, he served as the manager for the Tigers baseball team.
But he was more than an athlete. He was a big, jolly guy who was a friend to everyone.
"Christian was a great kid who was also a responsible kid, too, and let you know when or if he wasn't able to make practice," Marple Newtown football coach Ray Gionta said. "Athletically, he had some ability. He was a big kid who could move. Knowing Christian and what I know about the shooting, there probably wasn't any confrontation. He would avoid that at all costs. He didn't have a mean streak in his body. The kids absolutely loved Christian."
A "gentle giant," they called him.
"That's what is so shocking about this tragedy," said Dennis Reardon, Marple Newtown's assistant principal and athletic director. "Christian was the nicest kid. He was such a big part of Marple Newtown."
Reardon held a special bond with Massey. He'd coached him since eighth grade and frequently drove him back to Don Guanella when the bus didn't arrive and Massey would be standing there, a lone figure on the corner in the evening dusk.
He used to call Massey "Shack Daddy" in the halls as he passed by, and Massey would always return the greeting with a wide smile. Massey had never played lacrosse, but because he was so large, some players talked him into trying out for goalie.
"They figured Christian was such a big kid, he'd stop a lot of shots," Reardon recalled with a laugh. "He was the goalie for the JV the entire season. He was happy to do it, and the team was happy to have him. With Christian, it was about being involved and feeling like he belonged. He was just a lovable kid who was a big part of our school, a spirited kid who was good to other people. There's no question about it that this news has rocked the whole school. There was pain on the faces of a lot of people today. People rallied around this kid. He was well-loved by all."
Cecile Matthews heads the Life Skills Program at Marple Newtown, responsible for trying to mainstream special-needs students between ages 14 and 21. Massey was her success story.
When Don Guanella closed last year, Massey, along with many of the other boys in the school, was transferred to the St. Francis-St. Joseph Home For Children in Bensalem. Marple Newtown allowed Chris to finish there - making the two-hour round-trip bus ride each day.
He was accepted by the Hiram G. Andrews Center, in Johnstown, Pa., last year to learn construction.
Matthews and her staff held a goodbye party for him in June.
"It didn't matter that Chris was here all day at school. He was on the basketball team, the football team, the lacrosse team," Matthews recalled. "He was very social. Everyone knew him. Everyone liked him. He'll be very missed. He made such a success of himself. He had a job. He wanted to cook and build things. It's hit me like one of my own children died."
Matthews said it seemed as if the reports teachers filed about Chris always "glowed." She pulled his file out yesterday afternoon and took one last look. "Goals," he wrote. "Attend college after leaving high school. Improve reading and math."