SOUTH BEND—Christopher Simril's dream of being the first in his family to attend college came to a tragic end over the weekend.
The 18-year-old senior at Washington High School would regularly attend college preparatory classes through the Upward Bound program at the University of Notre Dame and had narrowed his college decision to five schools.
"We were looking over his essay about overcoming challenges," said Stephen Ponzillo, director of the Upward Bound program, which Simril has been attending since his freshman year in 2008. "He was very prepared. He just wanted to make sure he was really focused on being the first to go to college."
But, just three months before his graduation, Simril's hopes were dashed in a matter of seconds Sunday night when he was shot multiple times, including in the head, at Walker Field Park on the city's southwest side.
Simril was pronounced dead a short time later at Memorial Hospital. According to the St. Joseph County prosecutor's office on Monday an autopsy revealed that Simril "died from multiple gunshot wounds to the head."
A large group of juveniles was seen running from the area after the shooting, South Bend police Detective Sgt. Ian McQueen said. McQueen added there were some people at the park when police arrived, but it is unclear if they are related to the case or witnessed the shooting.
No arrests had been made as of Monday night and police still had not
identified a suspect, said Lt. David Wells, assistant commander of the
St. Joseph County Metro Homicide Unit.
Simril was reportedly found in the parking lot of the park, which is
located in the 1300 block of West Ewing Avenue across from Rum Village
Park. Details of how the incident unfolded are unclear.
The news left a somber feeling among Upward Bound staff as nearly 100
students, friends and family members flocked to the program's
headquarters Monday afternoon for grief counseling and a candlelight
prayer vigil that wound up at The Grotto.
"He was always one of our fantastic students," Ponzillo said. "He was
not only doing very well academically, but very well in the program."
The day before he was shot, Ponzillo said, Simril volunteered at the
Student and Parent Leadership Conference at Century Center, lifting
and setting tables. He also went on a ski trip last month through the
"He was one of those students who had impeccable manners," said
Melissa Lindley, an Upward Bound senior adviser. "He would go out of
his way to open doors for someone. ... He would help other kids -- he's
just that kind of person."
Ponzillo said Simril would show up for tutoring in his scrubs. He was
part of the medical magnet program at Washington and planned to pursue
a pharmacy degree in college.
Upward Bound is aimed at helping either low-income students or
students who may be the first in their family to go to college. It
helps students prepare for college and attain the skills necessary for
success. Simril attended at least once a week.
One night last summer while studying for a pre-calculus course with
fellow Upward Bound student Langston Blair, the pair put down their
notebooks to "talk about life," Blair recalled.
"He came here from St. Louis to get away from the violence and the
gang-related conditions that happened to him (Sunday)," said Blair,
"I still can't believe it," Blair said, choking back tears. "What
happened to Chris inspired me to do well ... not to take life for
granted. He was a nice guy. A great guy. A smart guy."
Ponzillo said Simril "already had 14 more credits than he needed to
graduate" from Washington High School.
Simril was to choose among Ferris State University, Alabama A&M
University, Indiana University South Bend, Purdue University Calumet
and Indiana State University.
Washington High School Principal George McCullough declined comment on
Monday, referring all questions to Simril's family members, who were
not available for comment.
"This is not something that should have happened to Chris," Ponzillo said.
Usually quiet park
Walker Field Park is generally quiet.
McQueen said this is only the second police call there this year, and
there were only 10 calls in 2011. Of the 10 calls there last year,
only three were reportable cases and only one arrest was made.
"It's not a place that comes up on the radar," McQueen said. "It's a
peaceful, quiet place. You drive past and you don't know it's there."
A man who lives in the area told WSBT he's not shocked by the shooting.
"It's how the world is these days, you kind of get used to it,"
Grayson Poe said.
Wells, meanwhile, said police continue to interview people in hopes of
developing a possible suspect. He said people fled the scene on foot
and in cars after the shots were fired.
"We'll probably be here all night (investigating)," Wells said.
"We don't know what was going on there. We heard reports of several
people running, and that's what we have."
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