Shaun Harrison and a litany of betrayals
To call it "attempted murder" doesn't seem to do it justice.
Listening to the charges against Shaun O. Harrison in a Suffolk County courtroom this week, it felt as if the legal system lacked the language to describe the wickedness of what Harrison allegedly did — what Harrison allegedly was.
"Armed assault with intent to murder." "Aggravated assault and battery with a dangerous weapon." Various gun charges and drug possession with intent to distribute — none of this, horrible as it all is, quite conveys the depth of the betrayal at the center of the case.
As dean of academies at Boston English High School, Harrison was supposed to support students like Luis Rodriguez. And like so many city kids, Rodriguez needed support. "I really had a dysfunctional childhood," said Rodriguez, now 20. His mother was incarcerated. His grandmother raised him.
Harrison's job was to look after kids like Rodriguez, Suffolk Assistant District Attorney David Bradley said. Instead, prosecutors and Rodriguez say, Harrison recruited the boy to sell drugs.
Harrison was supposed to keep an eye out for kids like Rodriguez. But instead of molding his young mind, Harrison allegedly tried to put a bullet through it. Rodriguez told the jury Friday that Harrison had confronted him about some missing marijuana and that morning allegedly had Rodriguez's friend ambush and attack him at school.
That night, after Harrison allegedly lured Rodriguez to a McDonald's on Mass. Ave., they set out into the snowy city, Rodriguez said.
They wandered through the neighborhood together until they came to the "cold, dark place," Bradley said, where Harrison allegedly shot Rodriguez in the back of the head at point-blank range.
Darkness and cold confront young people all over this city. So many kids never emerge, living lives that are too hard, and dying deaths that come too soon. Those who succeed in spite of the crushing challenges of poverty, drugs, and violence are inspirational, at least in part, because of the staggering obstacles they overcome. But they don't do it alone. They lean on dedicated teachers and tireless advocates who help them along the way — people who light the way in the dark and warm the unreasonable cold.
That was supposed to be Harrison. And it was a role he pretended to play — even after he allegedly approached Rodriguez in the cafeteria and asked if he wanted to make money selling weed. They talked about the 17-year-old's personal problems, and the two became close.
"I felt like I could be able to go to him," Rodriguez said on the witness stand Friday, the right side of his face showing the lingering results of the .380-caliber slug tearing through his head and lodging in his cheek.
Kids like Rodriguez often don't have someone like that in their lives. "It was enough for me to put my trust into him," he said.
For people who do this work honestly, that trust is something approaching sacred. Twisting it into sick loyalty, and using it for personal gain, is unthinkable.
But the Shaun Harrison described by prosecutors is unthinkable — something worse, somehow, than murderous. He allegedly used his position of power, and the trust it conferred, to worm his way into lives that were already wrung by trouble and pain and twist them tighter and tighter. And when Rodriguez failed him, Harrison found a place that was colder and darker still.
None of that is quite captured in the charges against Harrison. The series of lies and betrayals that allegedly led up to the shooting are at least as galling, and every bit as bankrupt.
Harrison's lawyer told the jury that the story prosecutors will tell will fall apart under scrutiny. But the evidence so far appears overwhelming. The shooting was captured on video, and the young man who bravely testified Friday says Harrison is the man who shot him. He survived only because the bullet narrowly missed his brain stem, and because Harrison, if he indeed pulled the trigger, is nearly as incompetent as a hitman as he was as a school administrator.
Harrison also fancied himself a preacher and embraced a nickname that conferred the imprimatur of religion on him: Rev. It's the word Rodriguez uttered in the hospital when his aunt asked him who'd tried to kill him — a word that suggests Shaun Harrison was a man of God.
But the Harrison prosecutors describe preyed on the vulnerable. He twisted their trust. He stalked through darkness and cold.
If anything, he was working for the other guy.