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Slain teen 'a trusting person'

As few details emerge about the shooting, lacrosse teammates of Derek Pieper, shown at right, say he was serious about the game he loved to play.

By KEVIN GRAHAM
Published July 31, 2006


TAMPA - Tom FitzSimons sat on a Citrus Park playing field Sunday, his legs crossed and eyes cast toward the ground as the afternoon sun beat down.

The Wesley Chapel High School coach knew what he wants to say today when he talks to the school's lacrosse team about the death of their teammate, Derek Pieper. He just wasn't sure how to start.

"I'm not sure how I'm going to deal with it," FitzSimons said. "Wins and losses are tough, but they're something you recover from."

Pasco County authorities found Pieper, 17, and Raymond Veluz, 18, dead from gunshot wounds early Friday, face down on a country road in Trilby.

"Derek was a trusting person," FitzSimons said. "Whoever did this, I hope they catch them quickly, not only for his family's closure, but for his teammates and the community."

As few new details emerged Sunday about the shooting, friends of the teens continued flocking to MySpace.com to leave messages. Many had changed their profile pictures to photographs of Pieper in his lacrosse uniform, with headlines that said R.I.P.

At Ed Radice Park, in northwest Hillsborough County, former teammates of Pieper's joined FitzSimons for a pickup game of lacrosse and paused to reflect on the tragedy.

"He probably would have been out here playing," FitzSimons said of Pieper, whose nickname was "Hollister" because he always wore clothes from the store.

No one answered the door at Veluz's home in Wesley Chapel on Sunday, and relatives of Pieper declined to comment.

Ryu Arakawa, 18, woke up to news of the shooting when a friend sent him a text message Saturday morning.

"It almost sounded like a sick joke," Arakawa said.

Before graduation this year, he played lacrosse for two years with Pieper.

"He would always stay after practice to ask for help on things so he could get better," Arakawa said. "He definitely wanted to play in college."

Tiffany Cleaver, 17, dated Pieper just before the end of last school year, when he was a junior. She was organizing a gathering at her home Sunday evening to share memories.

Michael Vigo, 18, another lacrosse teammate who also graduated this year, said Pieper wasn't one to have enemies.

"It just blows my mind that it happened," Vigo said. "He was always there if anybody needed someone."

Neither FitzSimons nor Pieper's teammates knew Veluz.

FitzSimons described Pieper as a "responsible" teen. His stepfather had medical problems that often required much of Pieper's mother's attention, FitzSimons said. So Pieper would make sure he did his part to help out at home by doing tasks his stepfather couldn't, FitzSimons said.

When he meets with the lacrosse team tonight, FitzSimons said he'll talk about what the guys can do to help Pieper's family. The team mother has already started putting together a schedule to provide meals for the family.

"I always tell these guys when they sign up they join a fraternity," FitzSimons said. "They're teammates for life. It's not just about what happens on the field. It's about what happens in every aspect of life."

Kevin Graham can be reached at 813 226-3433 or kgraham@sptimes.com.

[Last modified July 31, 2006, 06:16:36]


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