School mourns death of shooting victim

Posted: May 07, 2014

NEW MEDIA Technology Charter senior John Fieffe still remembers the day Devin Bullock, his friend and teammate, entertained their writing class with an impromptu song and dance.

Reuben Mills, the school's chief executive, smiled when recalling the day he made Bullock principal for a day. And head basketball coach Mike Greene still can't forget the day Bullock, a senior point guard for the Jaguars this past season, hit the game-winning free throw in a dramatic playoff victory.

A complex collage of sadness, celebration, disbelief and dismay emerged at the West Oak Lane school yesterday after news spread that Bullock, 19, had died Sunday night at Hahnemann University Hospital from complications arising from gunshot wounds he suffered on April 23.

Fieffe, who lives near Broad Street and Olney Avenue, was awakened early yesterday by a teammate's phone call.

"I paused," said Fieffe, sitting in Mills' office. "What? Dev died? I was in shock. I hung up and sat up for a good 10 minutes."

When Fieffe eventually arrived at school, Mills had already gathered the team.

"As we got into the conference room," Fieffe said, "we just saw people crying, people sad. It was just news that, to this moment, we don't really understand. We are still confused. Some people still believe it's all a lie. They're just in denial, and I understand that completely."

Bullock, who was a Division D first-team All-Public League coaches' selection, was shot in the thigh and groin shortly after 5 p.m. April 23 near 25th and Thompson streets in North Philadelphia. He was admitted to Hahnemann, where his leg was later amputated.

The two men Bullock was walking with, both 22, were also shot - one in the left thigh and the other in the buttocks.

Police said that James Cole, 20, allegedly drove up to the trio and opened fired from a black sedan with tinted windows. Police said that Cole, who last played basketball in 2012 for now-closed Roberts Vaux High, surrendered to police on Saturday and was charged with three counts of attempted murder. A murder charge is expected after Bullock's death.

Police said Cole had a prior argument with one of the other men. Cole was arraigned Sunday and held in lieu of $1 million bail. Police believe that Bullock, who did not play varsity basketball when Cole was at Vaux, was not an intended target.

In Mills' office, Fieffe, teammates and Greene reminisced via cellphone-captured videos, which revealed Bullock singing, dancing and laughing.

"I feel blessed that I got a chance to know that young man," Greene said. "He has changed my life and he has changed everyone's life here."

Greene said he received a phone call at 12:24 a.m. yesterday morning informing him that Bullock had died. He remembered the time specifically because Bullock's jersey number was 12.

"Unbelievable," Greene said. "Like, this really couldn't have happened because this young man had everything in front of him."

Before the incident, Greene said, he planned to surprise Bullock with a visit to Valley Forge Military College, whose coaches, Greene said, were interested in the 6-foot point guard.

In February, Bullock, who hit the game-winning free throw against Paul Robeson High in a Class A semifinal playoff, told the Daily News that he had lived on his own since age 16 and slept with a basketball that he named "Michelle."

Estranged from his parents, he also said he rented an apartment near 26th and Master streets that he paid for by working at Foot Locker in the Cheltenham Square Mall.

At the Foot Locker, less than a mile from New Media, the store had a similar feel.

"You knew he wasn't like the other kids, running around the streets doing all kinds of crazy stuff," said assistant manager Alexis Newman. "Basketball was his life. If he wasn't playing basketball, he was trying to talk to girls.

"That was one of my main things with him in the store, 'When you're helping customers, stop trying to talk to girls, come on,' " she said, forcing a smile.

"You could count on him," Newman continued. "He was reliable. He had dreams and goals, and for this to happen to him, it just hurts because this is not fair. It's not fair that he had his dreams taken away so quickly. I was already hurting when they took away his leg. That's all he lived for was basketball."

Although his schedule fluctuated, Bullock would work about 30 to 40 hours per week.

"Devin wasn't even just liked, he was loved," Newman continued. "Now, everybody has this somber feel. Nobody really has much energy. We'll try to give the best customer service we can, but right now, we don't even have the energy to be ourselves today."

Across the hall at Kids Foot Locker, where Bullock also helped out, store manager Tiffany Patrick politely asked for a moment to gather her composure. She re-emerged later, face still stained with grief, tears clinging to the corners of her eyes.

"He was just a good kid," she said, her voice soft and trembling. "If you were having a bad day, he could make you laugh. He was just a good one. It hurts. It's sad. When will this stop?"

Patrick, along with Bullock's direct manager at Foot Locker, Jhamaer Keyes, attended New Media basketball games.

"That guy would have done anything I asked of him," Keyes said. "He was a part-time employee for me, but I could count on him so much that I gave him the responsibility of a full-time member."

Gregarious and reliable were frequent descriptions from those who spent time with Bullock.

A quick bond was forged with Mills, who was a deputy superintendent for the Camden Board of Education before he took over as New Media CEO in August.

"Eventually, within a short period of time, we had built this really strong relationship beyond any student I've had," he said. "To go through this hits really close to home."

In the fall, school principal Justin Pascale was to be absent for a scheduled surgery, so Mills bought Bullock a shirt and tie and made him acting principal, supervising hallways, monitoring the lunchroom and making sure students went to class.

"He wore that shirt and tie with pride that day and he took his job seriously, like a badge of honor," Mills said, adding, "That was my Devin. That was my Devin."

Mills added that Bullock's parents and family were constant fixtures at the hospital. Even his basketball, "Michelle," was signed by teammates, teachers and administrators and delivered to the hospital.

Plans to honor Bullock, who was on track to graduate next month, are under discussion. However, Mills said tributes to the young man certainly will begin before commencement.

"Devin's spirit will not die," Mills said. "Not as long as we're here."

- Daily News staff writer Morgan Zalot contributed to this report.


On Twitter: @AceCarterDN

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