Ex-Knoch High athlete slain in robbery
A former Knoch High School football star and feature running back at Washington & Jefferson College was killed early Thursday when he and a teammate were attacked during a street robbery by perhaps a half-dozen men.
Tim McNerney, 21, and Zach DeCiccio, 22, of Jefferson Hills were walking home from a downtown tavern in Washington about 2:30 a.m. when they were accosted “by as many as six guys” on the sidewalk at the side of an automobile repair shop at the corner of South College Avenue and East Maiden Street, said city police Lt. Dan Stanek.
McNerney, who was found about 90 minutes later, was pronounced dead at The Washington Hospital.
DeCiccio, who suffered a broken nose and bruises, told police that he fought with three men who tried to steal his cell phone, Stanek said.
The senior defensive back said he managed to break free and ran back to his dormitory where he told friends what happened and then called campus police, who called city police at 2:54 a.m.
Washington police searched the area and could not find McNerney. His friends began looking for him and found him in the repair shop's front parking lot shortly before 4 a.m.
They and campus police began cardiopulmonary resuscitation before paramedics arrived.
An autopsy showed that McNerney had “trauma to the back of his head,” possibly by being “punched or shoved (and) falling back and hitting his head,” Stanek said.
Stanek, the police department's lead detective, said it's not clear if McNerney, perhaps stunned by his head injury, had wandered away from the repair shop or was hiding from his assailants when police initially searched the area.
“Those cowards took Tim's life. They cannot take away the spirit of Tim's family, this football team and this community, the W&J community,” Presidents football coach Mike Sirianni told hundreds of students, family members and friend's of McNerney during a campus candlelight vigil on the Burnett Lawn on Thursday night.
Stanek said DeCiccio said he did not recognize any of his assailants and that the attack appears to have been a random street robbery.
McNerney's wallet and cell phone have not been found.
Stanek acknowledged that there have been several street robberies in the city in recent months but that the campus and surrounding areas have generally been safe.
“There is no evidence they are targeting students,” police Chief Robert Lemons said.
A moment of silence was observed at the Knoch football game Thursday night, and McNerney's No. 5 was painted along the Knights' sideline.
McNerney holds Knoch's rushing record of 2,842 yards, which he accomplished in less than three seasons. He was named Class AAA first-team all-state selection by The Associated Press.
“The South Butler County School District issued a press release: “Active in school activities and athletics, Tim was a positive influence on friends, classmates and fellow teammates. The district requests privacy and respect for Tim's family during this sensitive time.”
“The campus community is heartbroken, and our deepest prayers are with Tim's family and friends,” said Karen Oosterhous, director of communications of Washington & Jefferson College in a press release.
“The safety of our students, both on and off campus, remains our highest priority,” she said.
“I'll remember how big Timmy's heart was,” Knoch football coach Mike King said.
A former team captain, McNerney was W&J's leading rusher through five games this season, with 483 yards and four touchdowns on 89 carries.
A big-play back known by some Presidents fans as “The Cut-back Kid,” McNerney was nearing fifth place on the school's career rushing list. He had 2,339 yards in two-plus seasons as a starter.
“We got a text from coach and a call from (team) captains at 6:30 (a.m.) saying we had a meeting at 7,” said W&J senior linebacker Brendan Lucchino, a Highlands graduate. “We knew it had to be something serious. When we were told Timmy was no longer with us, it hit me like a train.
“I don't feel like this is real. It's like a bad dream. We are all so sad and angry.”
“He was a great student and athlete and he was well-liked by both the students and football players — a very popular kid,” said Frank Gigler, 23,of Manassas, Va., a former W&J football captain who graduated this year.
Sirianni told those at the vigil: “I knew every day I went to practice (with McNerney) I knew I would yell and I knew I would laugh more than once. ... As a coach, you're going to have favorite players, kids you bond with. Tim will always be one of those players.”
The coach, stopping often to compose himself, said McNerney's mother told him that her son once “made the comment that he was ‘always in the wrong place at the wrong time.' I know (it's) the wrong time but he's in the right place. He's with us here, telling me to shut up again.”
Damian Bosiacki, 21, a W&J senior, remembered McNerney as “a great rapper and a great playwright.”
“When you lose someone ... you lose part of yourself,” Bosiacki told told McNerney's family at the vigil: “We are here for you. We are here to help you through your loss.”
Michael Hasch, Mary Ann Thomas and Bill Beckner Jr. are staff writers for Trib Total Media. Staff writers Tony LaRussa and Liz Hayes contributed to this report.