A Teen With Everything, Now Accused Of Parents' Contract Hit When An Outstate Pa. Couple Were Killed By Two Gunmen, Their Son's Reaction Was A Shopping Spree.

Posted: April 21, 1996

ALIQUIPPA, Pa. — Sixteen-year-old Brian Samuel led a princely life in a decaying mill town. His grandparents gave him a flashy red car last summer when his feet could barely touch the pedals. His parents lavished gifts on him, including a top-of-the-line bicycle, a dirt bike and a new computer when a program wouldn't run on his old one.

Samuel also was privileged to have two strong parents who worked hard as home contractors. As head of the junior ushers at church, he sang ``No Greater Love'' in the choir at Easter and often addressed adults as ``ma'am'' and ``sir.''

FOR THE RECORD - CLEARING THE RECORD, PUBLISHED APRIL 22, 1996, FOLLOWS: The Inquirer yesterday incorrectly reported the professional football team of defensive lineman Sean Gilbert. Gilbert plays for the Washington Redskins.

But these are not the things that anyone is likely to remember about this thin, quiet lad who rarely smiled. Ten days ago, police say, Brian Samuel, 16, did the unthinkable. Chafing at his parents' attempts to control him, he promised two fellow high school students $12,000 apiece to kill them, authorities say.

Police say Brian Samuel stood by while the hired gunmen pumped two bullets into his mother, Tresa, 47, and shot his father, William, 49, at point-blank range after he had staggered out into the street, reeling from an initial bullet.

After the murders - and before his arrest - Samuel outraged neighbors by going on a shopping spree and driving around in his red Geo Tracker with the music blasting.

Both accused gunmen, Trazis Durham, 16, and Pete Schoonover, 18, implicated Samuel in statements to police and are in the county jail.

Samuel sits there, too - in a glass cage on suicide watch awaiting a trial that could cost him his life.

``The young man appeared to live a pretty comfortable life,'' observed Aliquippa Police Chief William Alston. ``Why he allegedly did this act is still something we're going to have to uncover.''

The murders have rent this tattered old steel town where composer Henry Mancini grew up and where football coach Mike Ditka and current St. Louis Rams defensive lineman Sean Gilbert were born.

Aliquippa has fallen far since the closing of its main steel mill in the mid-1980s. Drug sellers haunt its potholed streets. Its main drag, where a quarter buys 3 1/2 hours of parking, is pockmarked with racy bars, shuttered stores and vacant lots.

Even so, Aliquippa retains a bit of its small-town innocence. Parricide was something foreign. Sure, most in town knew of the Menendez brothers, convicted of killing their parents. But that was Los Angeles, not these green hills above the Ohio River.

``I'm 64 years old. I never heard of nobody killing their mommy and daddy'' around here, said Benjamin Lee, owner of the B & L Market downtown. ``I don't know if this town will ever get over it.''

``We have been violated,'' said Stephane Griffin, who grew up across Fourth Avenue from the Samuels. ``The community has been mentally raped.''

* Few people were as respected in the community as Samuel's murdered parents. ``They both had big hearts,'' said neighbor Debbie Rainey, one of hundreds who crowded Triedstone Baptist Church to pay her respects at the couple's funeral last Thursday.

William and Tresa Samuel were partners in a home-improvement business. Their home mirrored their success. The Samuels had built a large redwood deck and a swimming pool on their narrow lot. They had fronted the house with a veneer of knotty, dark-stained wood and had installed a new kitchen just in the last month. They took vacations in their Winnebago and went fishing on their new 16-foot boat.

A brash and burly 6-footer, William Samuel got his start in the steel mill and was known affectionately as ``Hack'' because he had moved here from Hackensack, N.J. Brian was the only child of his marriage to Tresa, but he had three children from a previous union.

He told friends he had recently won $2,500 in the Pennsylvania Lottery, which has no record of his winning. Rumors swirled that Hack had won 10 times that amount, and friends such as Benjamin Lee wonder if his son might have banked on the money to finance his alleged murder scheme.

While the Samuels lavished gifts on Brian, they didn't always give him the attention he wanted. Tresa Samuel was a devout churchgoer who served as Triedstone's Sunday School secretary. Yet neither parent attended Brian's performance in the Easter choir and that hurt him, friends said.

Many in the neighborhood recalled the Samuels' kindness. Hack would dig out neighbors' cars from the snow or help tow them up the steep hill that leads to Aliquippa's close-knit Fourth Avenue.

He helped rally the neighborhood about seven years ago, when everyone got together and put down a block-long strip of new sidewalk, said Kevin Cameron, 30, who grew up next door.

Neighbors congregated easily in the Samuels' house, where Tresa and Hack would hold barbecues and blast his beloved jazz and R&B. ``They were the life of this street,'' Cameron said. ``They were fun.''

* Where his father was loud, Brian Samuel was hushed. An introverted boy, he often could be found tapping on his computer or playing with younger children.

He not only had no criminal record, but neighbors like Marvin Emerson doubted whether this rail-thin man-child could even stand up for himself.

His mother overprotected him, neighbors said, and relatives showered him with material possessions. ``A lot of people call him spoiled,'' said Elise Brown, 27, his half sister. ``He had everything.''

Except perhaps a way to release his emotions. Some adults here see Samuel as a profoundly passive kid who couldn't tell truth from fiction. ``He always had to exaggerate things,'' said neighbor Hope Fuller. Only a few people knew of his growing emotional and educational problems.

Last June, Samuel failed two classes as a sophomore at Aliquippa High School. His parents grounded him before leaving on a brief vacation. While they were gone, the boy's elderly grandfather, Fred Whitehead, consoled Samuel by buying the youth a 1990 GEO Tracker sports utility vehicle.

Neighbors and friends say this was part of a pattern. Samuel would be disciplined by his parents and placated by his grandfather, who lived a few blocks away.

Whitehead last week declined to talk to a reporter.

Samuel's parents tried to control his access to the car, but the vehicle led Brian to hang with a racier crowd. He dropped his old friends, said Michael Childs, 18, who considered himself one of those who had been dropped. He also developed the disturbing habit of giving money to his new buddies, say friends and neighbors. Samuel seemed to be trying to buy his peers, several neighbors said. On one occasion, he took a girl shopping and bought her $200 worth of clothing and presents, neighbors said.

Samuel also would gamble with friends and lose. Those kids would then threaten him if they didn't get paid. ``He got bullied a lot,'' said neighbor Marvin Emerson, 30.

Samuel started carrying a .380-caliber handgun to school. When word reached school officials, they confronted him, and Samuel admitted that he had carried the gun, several sources said. He was given a 10-day suspension in February and ordered to undergo counseling.

But his parents hired a lawyer, who persuaded school officials to back off. Since no one had actually seen their son with the gun, the Samuels argued, Brian should be excused from counseling. He was.

That decision frustrated school professionals, who say that Samuel and his parents needed therapy. ``You don't know how hard we tried to get this kid help,'' one school employee said.

Samuel was suspended a second time when a teacher caught him with a magic marker walking away from some freshly applied graffiti. Samuel denied doing it, but wouldn't say who did.

Throughout these months, Samuel's parents kept trying to reform him. A close family friend said William Samuel beat his son on at least two occasions and personally destroyed the handgun. ``They didn't know what else to do,'' Elise Brown said.

Nothing was working.

* The murders were gruesome and direct. Heeding what police say was a prearranged sign from Brian, Trazis Durham, 16, and Pete Schoonover, 18, came to the door purportedly to return a Sega game cartridge. Donning blue bandannas over their faces, they opened fire on Brian's mother, Tresa, who took a gunshot blast to the back and a 9mm bullet in the side of the head. She fell between the kitchen and the dining room.

Brian's father, William, received a gunshot to the stomach but managed to limp out onto the street. There, one assailant caught up with him and finished him off with a bullet to the head. A close friend, Reuben Fuller, found Hack on the hitch of his beloved fishing boat.

Samuel at first identified two longtime friends as his parents' killers. Police duly arrested the pair he named.

After the murders, Brian seemed emotionless, neighbors recall. He had his parents' names tattooed on his forearms. He spent the next several days touring around Aliquippa in his black-trimmed Tracker with the radio blaring. He also went on a shopping spree, police say, and bought tennis shoes, clothes and gifts for friends.

Hope Fuller, who lives next door, said she confronted Brian about his behavior. ``I told him, `You may be happy there's no one here to punish you anymore, but the community is crying, and we're really angry about what has been done,' '' she recalled. ```You better consider us before you drive around with your music blasting.' ''

Fuller said his limp response surprised her. All he said was, ``Yes, ma'am,'' Fuller recalled. ``A normal person would have fought back verbally.''

Samuel, who is well-spoken, initially impressed the police. Now they say the youth tried to trick them.

Their suspicions were aroused when an informant reported that Brian Samuel had asked him to kill his parents. On April 15, four days after the murders, police released the two initial suspects.

Police found a man who reported supplying a gun to Durham and Schoonover. Once taken into custody, the suspected gunmen confessed and named Brian Samuel as the person who had arranged the hit. He was arrested the same day.

Now he's being held in the Beaver County Jail, where next-door neighbor Reuben Fuller works as a corrections officer. ``He's not saying anything; he's very quiet. He just sits there and looks at the walls,'' Fuller said. ``I told him just to pray.''

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