Penn Wood football star's name is cleared, but killer is still at large

It’s been over a year since someone shot and killed Zion Vaughan, a Penn Wood High School linebacker with aspirations to play college football. Yeadon police have not made any arrests. But last year, they did offer a theory of the case: They told the state’s Victim Compensation Assistance Program they believe Vaughan had been dealing drugs and thereby brought the killing on himself.

Vaughan’s grandfather Thomas Vaughan, who had applied for the victim assistance to help cover funeral expenses, has been fighting to clear his grandson’s name since. This month, a hearing officer for the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency found in his favor: Zion, the officer determined, appeared to be not a criminal but the victim of a robbery gone wrong.

That means that unless the state appeals, Thomas Vaughan can be reimbursed up to $6,500 for Zion’s funeral. But to his mind, justice has not been done.

“It was never about the money. It’s about what they are saying about my grandson. They were saying my grandson was a drug dealer,” he said. “These are the things that happen to our young black men. I got a problem with that.”

Zion, 18, was shot in the back just outside the house he shared with his grandfather — apparently while running away from the shooters. Though Vaughan has been frustrated with the pace, Yeadon Police Chief Anthony Paparo said the investigation remains open.

“We have two suspects, and we’re currently building a case,” he said. “It’s an active and fluid investigation, but I do anticipate a conclusion to it at some point.”

Thomas Vaughan, with photos of his grandson, Zion, who was killed in December 2016.
Camera icon STEVEN M. FALK
Thomas Vaughan with photos of his grandson Zion, killed in December 2016.

At the October hearing, Detective Ferdie Ingram of Yeadon police testified that five small bags of marijuana had been found at the crime scene, and that marijuana was also found in Zion’s system.

It may not feel like much of a win to Vaughan, but the case marked a rare victory on appeal for those denied victim assistance. Statewide, 401 claims were denied in 2016; only about a dozen of those were appealed to the level of an administrative hearing.

Angus Love of the Pennsylvania Institutional Law Project said most victims and families don’t have lawyers at such hearings. He represented Vaughan in response to concerns by victim advocates of possible racial bias. “The fact that nobody has been arrested leads me to believe there could not be any conclusive evidence that it was a drug deal,” he said. “The bigger question of whether this is a pattern in the office is an open issue in my mind.”

Although the application for assistance asks the victim’s race “for statistical purposes,” a spokesman for the office said no such statistics are available.