The Daily Star
Eagle Scout, avid athlete, beloved son, shooting victim, young black man in a mostly white town, Wesley Lippitt, 17, of Fly Creek, is all these things.
``But I am not a bully,’’ he said Tuesday in an interview with The Daily Star, his first statements to the news media since he was shot by classmate Anthony Pacherille last year on Good Friday.
``I’ve been reading letters and have seen on Facebook that my friends and I are bullies, that we picked on Anthony, but it’s not true. I didn’t really know Anthony well and I don’t believe in bullying,’’ he said. ``I sat beside him in global (studies), but we didn’t talk much,’’ Lippitt said.
``I didn’t know he was a racist, but there was something about him that worried me, little things you pick up on.’’
Lippitt, an incoming senior at Cooperstown High School, said that until the day he was shot by Pacherille, he thought the two would have little to do with each other until they graduated, then go their separate ways.
That all changed April 2, 2010, when Pacherille, then 16, shot Lippitt in the left arm, then fired another shot in Lippitt’s direction before shooting himself in the head outside the Cooperstown Police Station.
Pacherille, who recovered from his wound at Bassett Medical Center, pleaded guilty in April to seconddegree attempted murder in exchange for an 11-year sentence. As part of the plea bargain, Pacherille, who is white, admitted he selected his victim for racist reasons, stating: ``I chose Wesley Lippitt because he was African American.’’
Pacherille’s father, also named Anthony Pacherille, said Tuesday his son is no racist.
``No one, no one except for people who just want to believe it on a matter of principle, no one believes Anthony Pacherille is a racist,’’ the father said on the telephone. ``They believe he was mentally ill, they believe he was bullied, they believe he did something very bad, but nobody except for a select few believes he is a racist.’’
The younger Pacherille is scheduled to be sentenced July 22 by Otsego County Judge Brian Burns. Between now and then, his supporters are sending letters to Burns, hoping to have the sentence reduced and his son accorded youthfuloffender status, the father said.
Several of the letters allege that his son was bullied at school, he said.
His son, who is being held at the Otsego County Jail, recently sent him a letter with the names of those he said had bullied him.
Among the names is Wesley Lippitt.
Otsego County District Attorney John Muehl said the bullying allegations are ``false.”
``There’s nothing to that,’’ he said Tuesday. ``Anthony never complained of bullying. No one observed any bullying by Wesley or anyone, and we interviewed students, teachers and staff.No one knew of any bullying.
There’s no record of any bullying. And look at the reasons they claim he was bullied in school _ that he’s Italian, and he’s Catholic. Does that sound right?
``They’re just trying to fool people because they don’t want to admit that Anthony Pacherille tried to kill Wesley Lippitt for racist reasons.”
Muehl added that a suicide letter written by Pacherille, demeaning minorities and praising Hitler, underscores his motives. Sitting home Tuesday, Lippitt said he never expected to have a year like the last one.
``I was just going to school, in a routine,’’ he said. ``I like sports, soccer, basketball and track; I think sports have kept me in school.’’
On that sunny April day, he was in Cooper Park with friends when Pacherille drove by, he recollected.
With the car still rolling slowly, Pacherille grabbed a rifle and got out, Lippitt said. Pacherille looked down the barrel, first at others in the park, then at him, he said. Lippitt, a sprinter on the track team, ran for hislife.
``I’d never had anyone look at me like that before,’’ he said. ``I didn’t really know where I was going, just trying to get away. I’d seem him in gym class and I didn’t think he was that fast, but when I looked back he was right behind me.’’
Lippitt said he crossed busy Main Street without looking either way, bolted to the police station where the inner door was locked. So were the other inner doors, and he was trappedinside.
``I yelled `help!’’’ Seconds later, Pacherille came into the corridor where he was hiding, got ready to shoot ``and I threw my water bottle at him,’’ Lippitt said.
Pacherille fired twice, and one of the shots ripped through Lippitt’s arm.
``I didn’t feel a thing,’’ he said. ``I think the water bottle saved my life because it threw him off-balance.’’
Then, as Cooperstown police officer James Cox came through the inner door, Pacherille stepped outside and shot himself.
``He was saying `let me die, let me die,’ and it was hard to believe it was happening,’’ Lippitt said.
Lippitt said he looked outside to where Pacherille was crumpled on the welcome mat, then went back to where he had been hiding and noticed his shirt was clammy.
``There was blood on it, on my pants, and it hit me: holy crap, I’ve beenshot.’’ Only then did his arm begin to throb and sting, he said.
Weeks went by, then months, and as the legal wheels turned, Wesley Lippitt’s arm healed, although hurts of another kind were in store for him.
Pacherille’s parents, Anthony and Kathy Pacherille, have campaigned for their son to be treated leniently as a victim of mental health problems. They and other supporters have written letters, given interviews, and this spring, signs bearing the message ``Save Anthony’’ appeared on many lawns, especially in Cooperstown.
``When I first saw them, I thought `save Anthony? Save him from what?’’’Lippitt said. Coupled with false bullying allegations, the signs seem to be an attempt to deflect blame and turn the perpetrator into a victim, he said.
``I don’t hate Anthony,’’ he said. ``I hope when he gets out he has a decent life, but I’d like to have the truth known about what he did and why.’’
The last year has been a tough one for his family, Lippitt said. In August, some five months after the shooting, his sister, Tamra, 25, died suddenly.
He and his adoptive parents, Craig and Tracey Lippitt, have done their best to console each other.
``We try to eat dinner together every night and talk things over,’’ he said. ``I think we’ve gotten closer.’’ As he speaks, Lippitt holds a tiger kitten, Malcolm. For months after the shooting, periodically he couldn’t sleep nights, he said.
``Sometimes I had to come home from school because I was so tired.’’
Now, the sentencing looms, and although he has the right to address the court, Lippitt said he hasn’t decided whether he will speak.
``I’m still thinking about that,’’ he said.
He’s looking beyond the summer, too, to one more year at Cooperstown High School, then off to either college or the United States Coast Guard.
Asked if the shooting has altered his plans about settling in the area, he said, ``No. I never planned tosettle here. I don’t like the cold and I’d like to live nearsome place bigger. I think I might go to California.’’