Darnell DeLoatch, 17

On Oct. 2, just 10 hours after a Lancaster County man executed five Amish schoolgirls, Darnell DeLoatch and his neighbor, William Hilton, 26, were killed with the same brutal efficiency.

Darnell, who was recovering from a dirt-bike accident, was in a wheelchair outside his home on South 55th Street, a "halo" brace on his head, when two assailants opened fire.

Darnell DeLoatch

Police say Hilton tried to run. Darnell managed to stand, then was pushed back down and shot in the head and chest.

"It was a nice day," says his mother, Darlene DeLoatch, bewildered by this first violent death in her large family. "All my children were just sitting out, chilling."

On the eve of his funeral, the women who loved Darnell beam at the boy's well-groomed body like it's Easter Sunday.

Darnell's best friend, Crystal Green, 17, retied the new sneakers so the laces hung in the "bunny ears" style he favored. Big sister Daynette DeLoatch chose the shirt and jeans. Casual. Otherwise, she said, "He'd be like, 'Why you all put me in a suit?' "

They marvel at the fading of the hole in Darnell's forehead, and the miraculous return of the hair torn from his scalp by the bullet. A little eyebrow pencil?, they wonder. Krazy Glue? He looked so good, you could forget to cry - until his aunt Sharon Rutledge began to weep as she stroked his cheek.

Darnell was crazy about rap and sports and wanted to be an electrician. Able-bodied, he was one of the best fighters on the block.

Last weekend, he was supposed to move to the home of his father, Andre Shackleford, in Dover, Del. His mother, who works two jobs, figured he'd be safer there. "As long as he had the halo on," she said, "I didn't want him around his regular friends."

As mourners filed past Darnell's body during the service, the lace on one sneaker was no longer drooping like a bunny's ears. Aunt Sharon stopped to adjust it. Moments later, Daynette did, too.

Contact April Saul at 215-854-2872 or asaul@phillynews.com.

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