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    Mom would be proud

    After overcoming emotional and physical handicaps, David Herrington has racked up one honor after another. His mother would swell with pride - if she were here.

    By AARON SHAROCKMAN
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published June 9, 2002


    photo
    [Times photo: Boyzell Hosey]
    David Herrington graduated near the top of his class at Largo High School.
    LARGO -- David Alan Herrington's mother taught him to ride a bike and tie his shoes. His father stayed busy watching football on television.

    Both missed Herrington's high school graduation last week.

    His mother, Cathy Ann, died 12 days before his sixth birthday. His father, William, strangled her and now is locked away in a Florida prison cell.

    Suddenly, Herrington was alone in the world. Schoolmates laughed at him. Then the sweating started. He couldn't stop it. Later, he would need metal cables attached to what he calls "Pinocchio puppet shoes" to straighten his turned-in feet.

    Then he switched from a school with eight classmates to a school with 348. He had every reason to give up, and no one would have blamed him if he did.

    But his father's hands couldn't kill Herrington's memories. He'll never forget his mom, and she would never quit.

    Those who have known Herrington, now 18, won't forget him either.

    A leader in class, at church and in the community, Herrington has excelled on his own. He'll be the first of his family to attend college when he starts classes at the University of South Florida in August.

    "I couldn't even help him with spelling," said his guardian and grandfather Charles Hynson, a retired plasterer who never attended high school. "I was an 'honor man' in the Navy, and I always told David to be an honor man. Now, he has so many honors that he puts me to shame."

    Herrington went to day care Dec. 1, 1989, a routine seclusion from his abusive father. His mom couldn't hide though. When she dropped him off that Friday, Herrington had no idea how his life would change. He was just excited to play with his G.I. Joes. At home, "Dad" would throw him by the ear because he was in the way. Herrington now has hearing problems because of it.

    Herrington woke up the next morning in the sheriff's office alone at the age of 5. He hasn't seen his father since. He doesn't want to.

    But because of good behavior, inmate 121271, William Bruce Herrington, will be released next year.

    The younger Herrington dreads the day.

    "I'm scared. I don't know how I'm going to react," Herrington said. "When you're 5, your mother is all that matters to you. He's the guy that took that away."

    Herrington, at 5, moved in with his mom's parents. His mother's murderer grew up next door. The Hynsons and the Herringtons were neighbors. David Herrington still was stuck in the middle.

    The Hynsons worried from the start with the living situation. Lorraine Hynson feared that David, already suffering emotional trauma and seeing a psychiatrist, would be permanently scarred.

    That year, he was diagnosed with a rare disease that produces uncontrollable sweating. At 8, his feet were crooked nearly 45 degrees.

    "At school, the kids were ruthless," Lorraine Hynson said. "They'd be like: 'Hey Kid, your shoes are on backwards.' The teachers weren't much better."

    The boy who lost his mom was losing himself. Something needed to happen.

    "He was a Christian, and I think it saved him," Mrs. Hynson said. "As a kid, he was always at church. Even if his mom worked on the late shift, the next day she'd have him in church."

    So at a crucial moment in Herrington's life, he found something within himself and his faith and started to push in the right direction.

    He began to approach his father's parents, talking to his grandfather Leo Herrington about baseball cards and his experience during the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor. In time, he lost that fear and tension the Hynsons initially perceived. He gained confidence. Those talks and a long family history have Herrington interested in joining America's armed forces. He'd love an appointment to the Air Force Academy, he said.

    Over time, the cables worked, the "Pinocchio puppet shoes" came off and Herrington's feet straightened out. He started to run, and before he stopped, Herrington was a track and cross country star, running 60 to 70 miles a week.

    Herrington matured, donating time to his church and time to the homeless. He still works with Clearwater Community Services every Saturday and loves it.

    But his first day at Largo High School was a recipe for more of the same problems that have plagued his life. He walked into a class of well over 300 students. The year before at Clearwater Junior Academy, there were nine people in his class. He went from one classroom to dozens, eight familiar faces to none.

    He was alone again. He didn't let it get to him this time.

    After two days of silence, Herrington decided it was time for the students of Largo High to get to know who he is -- not the child who lost his mother at 5, rather the man who had accomplished so much.

    There, he would do his share of achieving as well.

    A member of the National Honor Society and the president of a school multicultural group, Herrington's resume reads like a list of options available at Largo High, not the commitments of one man. Mrs. Hynson says his countless activities might have hurt his studies. But a 3.75 GPA can't disappoint too many grandparents.

    Neither can 141 hours of community service in the past school year. Or a girlfriend who's the class salutatorian.

    Herrington walked without a hitch and earned his diploma last Thursday. He still broke a little sweat, but even at 9:30 a.m., it was another humid Florida day, and his girlfriend Dana Husaim was more than happy to switch caps for the photo ops.

    Both his parents missed the ceremony. Draped in medals, an honor cowl and ribbons, Herrington knew his mom would be proud.

    "Personal handicaps are not excuses for failures," Herrington says, "but motivation for success."

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