Shaun Harrison was a Boston high school dean and anti-violence advocate known by students as “Rev” for his pastor-like demeanour. But the pious facade hid a dark double life.
He boasted to students of his gang ties, drugs and guns. He recruited one of them, a 17-year-old student from a broken home, to deal marijuana in school, authorities said.
But after a dispute over slumping drug sales, Harrison shot the teenager in the back of the head with a pistol as they walked on a snowy city street in 2015 and left him for dead, prosecutors said.
Except Luis Rodriguez didn’t die. He dragged himself up and flagged down a passing car. In the hospital, Rodriguez uttered the name of his would-be killer: “Rev”.
Harrison, 58, was sentenced on Friday to as many as 26 years in prison for assault and other charges, capping the tale of a wannabe saint, who, prosecutors say, was revealed to be a dangerous, predatory fraud.
“You professed to be a man of religion, you promote yourself as one who can mentor troubled youth … and yet you violated their safety by bringing drugs and violence to them,” Judge Christopher Muse said.
Harrison arrived at English High in Boston in January 2015, just two months before his arrest and after stints at other city public schools over about five years. He had been a community organiser and youth minister in Boston for decades, a familiar face who often worked with police and other law enforcement and helped gang members turn their lives around.
“This guy is probably the last person we would expect,” Police Commissioner William Evans told The Boston Globe after Harrison’s arrest in 2015. “He was an advocate for anti-violence. Why would he be on our radar screen?”
But there were signs early on that something was amiss.
A city inquiry into Harrison’s disciplinary record after his arrest found that he’d had other reprimands in his short tenure in the public school system, including warnings for pushing a female student and making inappropriate comments to two other students, both in 2012.
The morning he shot Rodriguez in 2015, he had shoved a female student during a dispute. School officials said later they had intended to fire Harrison for that incident alone. But he was charged with attempted murder the next day instead.
Harrison has denied the allegations, telling WHDH-TV he “never lived a double life.”
“I am not a gang member. I’m the Rev,” he told the station. “For me to be accused of something like that, all of a sudden at 55. … It’s like a nightmare, and you are trying to wake up from this nightmare.”
His lawyer told the judge that Harrison shouldn’t have to die in prison, describing him as a well-respected youth advocate with no prior criminal record. But the judge said Harrison acted like an “assassin” and called it a miracle that Rodriguez’s name isn’t etched into a nearby memorial to homicide victims.
Rodriguez, now 20, cried quietly in the back of the courtroom as his aunt described the horror of learning that her nephew was nearly killed by someone he trusted. The bullet entered near Rodriguez’s right ear and just missed his carotid artery, breaking his jawbone and causing nerve damage and hearing loss.
“May God forgive you, sir, because we will not,” Diana Rodriguez said between sobs.
During Harrison’s two-week trial in May, prosecutors painted a portrait of a man who took advantage of youths instead of moulding and shaping their lives for the better.
Rodriguez testified that he had a rocky start with Harrison but soon came to confide in him about his personal struggles. His mother was incarcerated and his grandmother largely raised him.
“He was my counsellor,” Rodriguez said in court, according to The Globe. “I went to him for everything.”
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