Death of a hoop dream

By MIKE MILIARD  |  August 28, 2008

On the night that changed his life, Hornsby Sr. had docked his bus, done with driving for the day. He arrived home, showered, and laid down for some rest. As was common, just as he was getting home, Monique Hornsby, who works the night shift at an assisted-living facility, was heading to work.

Around 10 or 11, Hornsby Jr. tried to cadge 10 bucks off of his old man. “He’s a funny person,” says Hornsby Sr., still referring to his son in the present tense. “When he wants something, you know he’s up to something: ‘Wow, you got a nice haircut! You got a good line up there!’ ” Hornsby Sr. chuckles, gesturing at his chiseled hairline. He didn’t cough up the cash, but Hornsby Jr. — who’d just gotten a new job at a shoe store — went out to a party anyway.

After the party, he came home, stopping in to the house briefly before rejoining his friends nearby at 73 Maynard Street. “His friends were around the corner,” says Hornsby Sr. “He figured he’d go see what was going on.” Hornsby Jr. hung out with his pals for a while, but decided to call it an evening.

“Guys were telling me he said, ‘Ain’t nothing happening, I’m going home.’ ” Just then, “as he stepped off the porch, someone opened fire. It was night. It was raining. And he just jumped out of a bunch of bushes.”

“Everybody was running, and checking to make sure everyone was okay,” says Hornsby Sr. flatly. “But Mario joked a lot, so when he said he was hit, no one believed him because he was so calm.”

Hornsby Jr.’s friends ran to his family’s house. “I don’t know how they did [it], but they broke my door down and went upstairs,” recalls Hornsby Sr. “I’m in the bed asleep. ‘Wake up! Wake up! Wake up! Mario’s been shot! He’s dying. He’s dying.’ I thought, ‘Am I dreaming?’ They literally pulled me out of bed to bring me around the corner.”

Monique Hornsby weeps quietly, comforted by Brown, as her husband describes what happened next. “The first thing I see is my son, his brand-new sneakers — he had just bought a brand new pair of Jordans, which were his favorite shoes — and him layin’ there shaking. His body was going into shock. I remember I just kept yelling, ‘Mario! Mario! You’re gonna make it. Just hold on. Everything’s gonna be alright.’ ”

Not long after he arrived at Baystate Medical Center, Mario Hornsby Jr. died. “When they put you in that little room,” his father says, “it’s not good. The doctor came in, and just from the expression on his face, we knew he was gone. I just kept saying to him, ‘Don’t tell me this. Don’t tell me this. No. It just cannot be.’ ”

By this time “quite a few kids — a couple hundred kids — had gotten the news, and had come down to the hospital,” he says. “The hospital staff was scared. They didn’t know what to do.”

All at once, he did his best to keep the crowd calm, to console his wife, and to try to find the words to tell his youngest sons that their brother was gone.

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