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A Year Later, Classmates Continue To Grapple With Death Of Antwon Rose

It has been one year since Antwon Rose, a black, unarmed teenager, was fatally shot by white police officer Michael Rosfeld. Rosfeld fired at the teen as he fled a car that had been involved in a drive-by shooting.

The shooting was caught on video and prompted weeks of protests and a homicide trial. A jury acquitted the East Pittsburgh officer in March.

Before his death, Rose was a student at Woodland Hills High School, and his classmates still grapple with the loss.

Four of them spoke with 90.5 WESA as part of a collaboration with the Narrative Justice after-school program. The program works with local youth through its Media Agency Project.

Their conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

When did you find out about the shooting that killed Rose?

Credit Katie Blackley / 90.5 WESA
90.5 WESA
Woodland Hills High School students (from left to right) Jeremy Thomas, Taylor Moore and Jeffrey Williams. The three spoke to 90.5 WESA about the year following the shooting death of 17-year-old Antwon Rose by a white East Pittsburgh police officer.

JEREMIE THOMAS: I found out about maybe 30 minutes after because the video got posted online. … I was just watching it over and over again because I didn’t know what happened [and] just wondered who it was, who it was.

TAYLOR MOORE: I had no idea that it was Antwon until I got home and I checked Facebook.

PLAZINIA TAGYEN: I was bawling my eyes out. I cried because this is not the first time that I actually lost somebody that was close to me or went to my school. So it’s like why is it always the kids in our school, like why are they always dying?

MOORE: It was really crazy to really think about because whenever you think of stuff like this, like police brutality, you never really think it could happen to you until it really happens. And it’s like, "Wow, this is real life – it’s not a game out here."

Credit Submitted Plazinia Tagyen
Plazinia Tagyen, 18, spoke with 90.5 WESA about her experience in the year following the death of Antwon Rose. The two knew each other and she says Rose was "always telling everyone to do good."

I look at these boys like they’re my brothers, like family to me. And it’s scary knowing there’s nothing I can do to prevent … someone else [from] taking my brother’s life.

JEFFREY WILLIAMS: [The shooting of Rose] literally happened right in front of my uncle's house. My uncle was outside while it happened. But then once I found [the] video and stuff [posted on the internet], I was like, "Dang."

I knew him since he first moved around here, since we were kids. We first played football and other stuff.

What do you remember about Rose?

MOORE: Last year – I was in 10th grade and he was a senior – he was trying to be my little boyfriend. He’s definitely a sweetheart, he’s definitely a flirt.

THOMAS: It doesn’t matter who his friends [were] – it was the drama club to the football players … white, black. It just didn’t matter. It was just, everybody was cool with Antwon.

TAGYEN: He’s like funny, very very funny. He’s always telling everyone to just do good and stuff like that.

Credit Katie Blackley / 90.5 WESA
90.5 WESA
A member of a crowd gathered at Freedom Corner in Pittsburgh's Hill District after a jury acquitted East Pittsburgh police officer Michael Rosfeld holds a sign with the title of a poem by Antwon Rose "I Am Not What You Think."

How did you and your classmates react when a jury announced it had found Rosfeld not guilty of homicide in the killing of Rose? What was it like to come back to school?

MOORE: Whenever the trial was going on and the verdict was [announced], I was at work. Me, personally, and some other people I’m around, we weren’t surprised.

TAGYEN: It makes me so mad because we never get any justice, and that’s why … most of us weren’t surprised.

WILLIAMS: My mom screamed my name downstairs. So I go downstairs, [and] my mom [is] crying and stuff. And me, knowing everything I know about the system and [with] my uncles and people I know that went to jail, it was just like, I already knew what was going to happen before it happened.

MOORE: The next day there was an announcement saying, if anyone feels some type of way, if anybody’s hurting right now, come to the auditorium. That’s what we did. Antwon’s mom came and spoke to us for a while and she vented to us and just said, "Stay in school, do what Antwon couldn’t do."

What has Rose’s death meant for your school?

TAGYEN: All year everyone [talked] about it because stuff like this [is] really serious. And the one thing that I do applaud [Woodland Hills Principal Phillip Woods for] is that he allows us to have a safe and comfortable space to talk about [it].

WILLIAMS: [Woods] really came and really enforced that we’re going to be better. We’re going to show them that we’re not weak, we’re going to be strong. We’ve been losing people like every other month for a long time. I lost two of my closest friends. And I lost my brother when I was in middle school.

THOMAS: Woodland Hills is not a bad school. I just want to put that out there for the media and everybody else because our rep is bad. But we are working as a community and as a district to be the best that we can.

WILLIAMS: If you’re not here living this life that we’re living every day, losing the people that we’re losing and seeing the stuff that we’re seeing, just don’t speak on it because at the end of the day, we’ve got each other and we’re gonna be all right.

Katie Blackley is a digital editor/producer for 90.5 WESA, where she writes, edits and generates both web and on-air content for features and daily broadcast. She's the producer and host of our Good Question! series and podcast. She also covers history and the LGBTQ community.