STEVEN EASON JR. was killed in a shooting at a haunted hayride on Sept. 11, 2021. A year later, his family held the first Steven Eason Jr. Memorial Basketball Tournament in his honor. (Photo by Rob Taylor Jr.)
15-year-old died in shooting at haunted hayride on Sept. 11, 2021
Back in May, eight months after the death of 15-year-old Steven Eason Jr. at a haunted hayride in North Versailles, Autumn Perkins had an idea for her close friend and Eason’s mother, Shantel Pizaro.
“She was saying, ‘Why don’t you throw a basketball tournament for his (Eason) one year (remembrance)?’” Pizaro recalled to the New Pittsburgh Courier.
And that’s exactly what happened.
Exactly one year after Eason’s death, the Steven Eason Jr. Memorial Bas ketball Tournament was held on Sept. 11, 2022, at the Kingsley Association in East Liberty. Young people in mostly grades 6 to 8 played in the tournament, playing the game that Eason loved.
“He really enjoyed the game,” Pizaro told the Courier, whether it was playing or watching on TV. “Steven was an amazing kid, he was full of joy.”
Eason was just a sophomore at Central Catholic High School when he decided to have fun at the Haunted Hills Hayride in North Versailles on Sept. 11, 2021. According to news reports, Eason tried to help another person who was involved in an altercation around 8:15 p.m. That’s when one of the men involved in the altercation pulled out a gun and shot Eason and another person. Eason died; the other person was critically injured but survived.
Police described the suspect as a juvenile between 15 and 17 years old, African American, between 5-feet-9 and 6 feet, with a slender build. Police have asked for cell phone video from those nearby of the confrontation. Police have asked for witnesses to come forward. But so far, police have been unable to make an arrest.
“We put this (tournament) together to bring justice for Steven,” Pizaro said. “Try to pull the strings of some people’s heart and come forward, say something. We need someone to come forward and say, ‘Hey, this is what happened, this is who did this,’ in order for Steven to gain some form of justice. But while we are also pushing for justice for Steven, we’re also pushing to try to give a platform to the children that we still do have here, to show them refuge. These are safe places; you have multiple resources,” such as the Center for Victims of violent crimes and other organizations in Pittsburgh.
THE OZANAM FUTURE STARS WON THE FIRST STEVEN EASON JR. MEMORIAL BASKETBALL TOURNAMENT, HELD, SEPT. 11, AT THE KINGSLEY ASSOCIATION. (PHOTOS BY ROB TAYLOR JR.)
The Ozanam Future Stars won the tournament. Ozanam Inc., is an organization whose mission is to help young people in the region develop into responsible young adults through athletic competition, developmental training, educational programming and social and cultural activities.
The coach of the Ozanam Future Stars, Dame Givner, told the Courier that it was important to see all the youth come out and support each other for Eason’s tournament. “Right now in the City of Pittsburgh, we have a problem with the youth just fellowshipping, coming together, and events like this give them an opportunity to do that and also build camaraderie,” Givner said. “It’s bigger than basketball. Basketball is just a platform we use to get the guys in the gym, but once we do that, there’s so many other avenues and opportunities for them to excel and be a part of the community.”
Cameron Clay, pastor of Petra International Ministries in East Hills, stressed how important it is for young people to know that there is a support system in place for them, right in their community. The basketball tournament is a way to honor Eason with what he loved to do, Clay said, “by showing that there’s a lot of love in the city and a lot of support, but we gotta stick together.”
Anwan Wesley, who helped put the basketball tournament together and is an assistant basketball coach for Imani Christian Academy in East Hills, said that Eason played on his team at the YMCA. That team won a championship. “He was a real good kid,” Wesley recalled, “and you know he was a real good kid because he literally sacrificed his life helping somebody else.”
On Sept. 2, Pizaro and the law firm Robert Pierce and Associates announced a wrongful death lawsuit was filed against the operator of Haunted Hills Hayride in North Versailles, BB Production Company Inc. The suit said that there were no metal detectors or security checks when people entered the hayride site, and there were no security cameras on site. The suit is alleging two counts of negligence.
But at the Steven Eason Memorial Basketball Tournament, no one was talking about the pending lawsuit. Pizaro and others were only focused on Eason’s love of basketball, the care he showed for others, and Eason’s future plans.
“Steven wanted to major in business in school,” Pizaro told the Courier. “A month before everything happened last year, he went to a mentorship program at Slippery Rock (university). We knew he wanted to work within business.”
SHANTEL PIZARO, MOTHER OF STEVEN EASON JR., STANDS NEXT TO HER SON’S EAST CATHOLIC BASKETBALL JERSEY. PICTURED TO THE LEFT IS EARNEST JONES.
Pizaro, standing next to Eason’s East Catholic school basketball jersey that he wore when he was in eighth grade (while a student at Sister Thea Bowman Academy, which didn’t have a basketball program), she challenged adults to do better for the sake of the children.
“If we are showing them negative attributes, they’re going to try to align with that because a lot of times, the negative is more fun,” Pizaro told the Courier. “…We just need us as adults to band together to show our children better role models.”