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He knew firsthand the cost of violence

Forbes Swisher vowed to avoid the pitfalls that cost some of his friends their lives. But Wednesday, he lost his life, too.

Published June 2, 2006

[Times photo: Willie J. Allen Jr.]
After losing her son, Denise Swisher (facing camera) hugs a longtime family friend as Joshua Fisher, 16, stands close by in front of their neighbor's home. Forbes visited his mother in the hospital just hours before he was killed in a violent argument Wednesday.

[Times photo: Willie J. Allen Jr.]
Joe West, 32, shakes out one of the T-shirts being made at T-Shirt University to memorialize Forbes Swisher, 18, who was killed in St. Petersburg. Swisher had worn T-shirts to honor his slain friends.

Forbes Swisher

ST. PETERSBURG - At least five times, Forbes Swisher's friends died violent deaths.

Swisher wore T-shirts honoring their memories. He thought the shirts would remind him and others of the consequences of bad decisions.

Now, another memorial shirt has been printed. This time it honors Swisher.

Swisher, 18, joined an argument Wednesday evening in the Midtown area of St. Petersburg. Shots were fired. Swisher fell to the pavement, fatally hit in the head.

The recent St. Petersburg High graduate planned to attend Bethune-Cookman College in Daytona Beach later this year on an academic scholarship.

"He told his mama, 'I'm going to be the one who finally makes it at college. I'm going to take care of you, mama,' " his cousin Nicole Swisher said.

Swisher, a Tallahassee native, was known as P-Nut, a nickname he picked up as a baby because his chubby cheeks looked like they were full of nuts. He moved to St. Petersburg in 1989. In recent years, he volunteered in the youth department at House of God Church.

Nicole Swisher described her cousin as the life of the party and a friend who "could make anyone smile."

His senior class even voted him "best smile.''

At his graduation ceremony last month, Swisher jokingly posed a few times as he received his diploma, his cousin said. When his friends walked off the stage, Swisher greeted them with his own mock commentary on their success, she said.

"I knew you'd make. I knew it. You weren't very smart. But I knew you'd get here," he joked with one of his classmates.

"You were quiet. Really quiet. Scary quiet, really. But I guess you were listening all that time,'' he said to another.

St. Petersburg High's former football coach Todd St. Louis described Swisher as a smart student who seemed to have overcome most of the perils of growing up in a rough neighborhood.

Swisher, who played linebacker and wide receiver, was undersized on the field, but made up for it with a lot of heart, St. Louis said.

"He kept the team together because everyone liked him," St. Louis said.

Swisher died a little after 6 p.m. Wednesday. Two teenaged boys had been arguing over a girl. They both called friends, who came to the scene at the intersection of 17th Avenue S and 29th Street. Swisher joined the fray with at least 10 other youths, police said.

As the fight escalated, one of the youths pulled a gun and fired several rounds. Marquise Davis, 16, was hit twice in the upper body. He underwent surgery and was in stable condition Thursday.

Swisher was hit once in the head. Friends put him in a car and drove him to Bayfront Medical Center.

Hours earlier, Swisher had visited his mother at the same hospital where she was being treated for asthma.

After Swisher was pronounced dead, police had the other patients in his mother's room removed so they could break the news to her.

Mother and son were close. She said she lived her life through him. He had a tattoo on one arm: "Ain't no woman in the world like my mama Denise.''

Swisher's stepfather, Andrew Hitchcock, wasn't sure what Swisher was doing at the intersection.

"There's so much peer pressure and negativity in this neighborhood,'' Hitchcock said. "There's almost nowhere to go that's completely safe."

Police were still investigating the shooting. No one had been arrested late Thursday.

Swisher dealt with death several times.

His friend Dortez Bizzell died with two other friends in a predawn crash in a stolen car. Another, Ronald "Lil Ron" Durham, was killed after a confrontation at a St. Petersburg teen dance.

Swisher often wore "RIP" T-shirts with his friends' images on the front.

"I get the shirts ... because sometimes it changes the inside, the way you think," he said in a St. Petersburg Times story about memorial shirts three years ago. "It might make you think twice about fighting."

Swisher was supposed to start work next week at T-shirt University, the St. Petersburg store that is printing his memorial shirt.

Swisher was not immune to some of the legal problems that plague many young men in Midtown. He was arrested twice, records show, once for auto theft in 2003 and again last month after a 16-year-old girl accused him of groping her in a St. Petersburg High restroom. He had not yet given his side of the story in court.

Nicole Swisher said her cousin sometimes ran with the wrong crowd, which would lead to problems. She said he was always disappointed in himself when he got in trouble because he knew he could do better. He didn't like upsetting his family, especially his ailing mother, she said.

He didn't want to end up on a T-shirt.

Times photographer Willie Allen contributed to this report.

[Last modified June 2, 2006, 05:32:02]

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