I hadn’t seen him since September 17, 1992.
That was the day James was shot in what we called the “main hallway,” a beautiful corridor with a black and white-patterned floor. His arm took the bullet meant for his chest.
James and the shooter had been friends. James said their dispute was over gambling during a game of Tonk.
I remember that day vividly. Students were upset and torn because we knew both young men. It was stupid and senseless. Oddly, I don’t remember a lot of soul-searching after the shooting. It was a chaotic year filled with chaotic days and somehow the incident didn’t register as a moment of reflection or change.
“They wouldn’t let me come back to school,” James said. “I don’t know why. I can’t remember. I finished in night school. I made it.”
James almost got shot again after a midnight basketball game at the old Arnett YMCA. A man followed him outside. “He said I wanted his girlfriend. He pulled out a .38 and it jammed.”
James decided it was time to leave Rochester. His arm rehabilitated, he served two years in the Navy.
He is now a lineman for IBEW, doing work for utility companies like RG&E. He has three children, lives in Henrietta and goes to church. He volunteers at the Boys & Girls Club and tries to encourage youth to enter his trade. “Kids think something is always supposed to be given to them. It doesn’t work that way.”
James also referees high school basketball in the Rochester City School District. He recently returned to Marshall to work a game. He hadn’t been there since the day of the shooting.
“I had an anxiety attack a week before the game…severely, to the point where I couldn’t eat,” James said. “I hadn’t been back, but I wanted to go back. I even walked down the hallway. It was the same.”
James believes the shooting changed the course of his life, setting him on a positive path. He isn’t sure what happened to his former friend who pulled the trigger. James believes he’s been shot a couple times and is now disabled. James isn’t mad at him. “As big as I was and as little as he was?”
James doesn’t blame Marshall for anything that happened or the way things turned out for some of our classmates. He points to family values as a key to success.
“I know we came a long way. I just don’t like to see a lot of people we used to go to school with that aren’t around anymore, that are either dead or in jail…or you hear about them on drugs.”
Most recently, we lost James McNair, Rochester’s first homicide victim of 2012. McNair was a youth mentor and a member of the Class of 1994. James attended the funeral.