Gorman: Slain New Kensington officer was son of Alle-Kiski Valley
Teenage boys stood in solemn silence along Leechburg Road as the funeral procession passed, a seemingly endless parade of police vehicles flashing blue-and-red lights.
Wearing their Burrell letterman jackets, they signaled to each other to remove their hats out of respect for Brian Shaw, the New Kensington police officer killed Friday night in the line of duty.
Shaw was supposed to be their soccer coach this past season, even practicing with the Bucs before he was hired in June by the New Kensington Police Department.
The Burrell athletes lined up outside Bon Air Elementary, holding plastic flags that whistled in the wind. They stood across from the Lower Burrell Volunteer Fire Company No. 3, where firefighters held their helmets over their hearts.
“It didn't feel real at first,” said Donovan Russell, a Burrell senior goalkeeper. “It took a while to hit that a guy who was just playing soccer with us is gone. It's incredible how people, whether they knew him or not, can come together for support.”
It wasn't long ago that Shaw was one of them, playing football and soccer and running for the track and field team. He wasn't just a Lower Burrell kid; he was a son of the Alle-Kiski Valley, which made his ultimate sacrifice so immeasurable.
“These kids are young and don't quite understand the finality,” said Steve White, a physical education teacher at Bon Air Elementary and Burrell's track and field coach. “Unfortunately, with Derek Kotecki, they've all experienced this.”
Kotecki, a Lower Burrell K-9 officer, was shot and killed in the line of duty in October 2011. The park where Shaw practiced with the Burrell soccer team was renamed in Kotecki's honor.
Just past the intersection at Tarentum Bridge Road — just before where New Kensington meets Lower Burrell — a giant U.S. flag hung from the ladders of the Highland Hose and Lower Burrell fire trucks.
These communities are taking Shaw's sudden loss personally, not allowing it to become politicized or potentially divisive. While Burrell and Valley high schools are sports rivals, they are close-knit communities that are grieving together.
“There's no doubt about that,” White said. “We have a border between us, but New Kensington, Arnold and Lower Burrell have been together through so many things. There's always sports rivalries, but we also shake hands and hug afterward.”
Burrell senior Josh Halkias said Shaw's death has hit hard but also brought the towns together. That was evident in the scores of people who lined Leechburg Road, some who knew Shaw personally, but many who didn't.
“Burrell and Valley don't always get along,” Halkias said, “but we can come together to help each other in a time of need. We are one giant family.”
White said the school's football, soccer and track and field coaches already have talked about having their teams wear a patch with Shaw's initials on their uniforms — just as they did for Kotecki — in tribute to the former three-sport star, who was a kickoff specialist at Slippery Rock University.
“Brian was extremely dedicated,” White said. “He worked his rear end off to be the best possible athlete. In an era of specialization, that was not Brian. To be a three-sport athlete — and very good at all three — was unique. I will use his life and legacy to encourage other athletes to play three sports.”
Kyle Legters, who played soccer with Shaw at Burrell, remembered him as “one of the most offensive-minded defenders I've ever seen.”
“He was a sprinter, so when he'd take off, he was gone,” said Legters, 24, now a software engineer at BNY Mellon. “It became a running joke with us. When a defender would do that, we'd say, ‘He's pulling a B. Shaw!'”
Halkias hopes to pull a B. Shaw himself — by following in his footsteps to become a police officer.
“That could be me in five years,” said Halkias, who plans to major in criminal justice at Robert Morris University. “I'm going to college to be a cop, so it hit hard. We talked about it very briefly. When I told him what I wanted to do, he said, ‘Good. The world needs more people in law enforcement.' ”
Shaw's death did little to change that for Halkias. As he watched the funeral procession with his fellow Burrell Bucs, it only reinforced his career calling.
“There was a little bit of second-guessing, but not much,” Halkias said. “I want to stop people from doing this, really.”