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Teen who shot friend describes tragedy

Steven Moschella, who accidentally killed his best friend last year, shares his story as part of his sentence.

By CARY DAVIS

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 28, 2001


LAND O'LAKES -- Until Tuesday, Steven Moschella had never talked publicly about how he accidentally shot and killed his best friend last year in the Ridgewood High School parking lot.

When the moment finally came for Moschella -- as part of his court-ordered sentence -- to sit for a videotaped interview about the shooting, he couldn't find the words.

Ray Gadd, the supervisor of psychological services for the Pasco County school district, called for a break and led Moschella outside.

"I told him, "Teddy Niziol's death means nothing unless you say something to help other kids,' " Gadd recalled later Tuesday.

With that, Moschella returned to the television studio in the school district's Land O'Lakes headquarters and described the nightmare he has lived for the past year, from the moment Niziol handed him a loaded pistol to the days he has spent in the Pasco County Jail with men nicknamed "Trouble" and "Evil."

Sometimes, he said, he sits alone in the dark and talks out loud, pretending Niziol is listening. His mother said she and Moschella's stepfather are getting divorced because of the strain on the family. His mother is losing her house because money for the mortgage has gone instead to pay lawyers and psychologists. Most of Moschella's friends "sold me down the river," he said.

"It's just a nightmare," he said. "I'm still in shock. I still can't believe this happened. It changed my life. I don't have fun anymore."

Authorities hope this portrait of a broken life will persuade students in Pasco's schools to stay away from guns.

Tuesday's interview with Moschella will be the centerpiece of a videotape that also will include commentary from Sheriff Bob White, Circuit Judge Craig C. Villanti and school Superintendent John Long. The video will be shown in a classroom setting in all of Pasco's middle and high schools beginning in the fall, Gadd said.

"We want kids to see what happened to a real teenager in Pasco County," Gadd said. "He's not from Jonesboro or Columbine. He's just like many other students here, only he got involved in a tragic situation, and now his best friend is dead."

The shooting occurred Jan. 19, 2000, as Niziol, 16, was driving Moschella and three other teens away from Ridgewood High in New Port Richey. In his Toyota 4-Runner, Niziol had a .22-caliber pistol that had been stolen during a string of burglaries in St. Pete Beach. Niziol handed the gun to Moschella, who was sitting in the back seat, and the weapon fired.

"Somebody had come to the window and wanted to see a gun," Moschella said Tuesday. "I had it in my hands, and it accidentally went off, and he was dead.

"I didn't know it was loaded."

Moschella, 17, pleaded guilty in October to a felony charge of manslaughter by culpable negligence. Villanti sentenced him to 60 days in the county jail, followed by two years of house arrest and four years of probation.

Since the shooting, Moschella has continued his education at home under the direction of a teacher assigned to him by the school district. He could graduate in May.

The judge also ordered Moschella to speak to all Pasco high schools about the danger of guns. Gadd, Villanti and Long later agreed that a videotaped interview would be better because Moschella has trouble speaking in front of large crowds, and they feared students might heckle him.

Moschella was interviewed Tuesday by Krista Thomas, a 17-year-old senior at Gulf High School. In preparation for the interview, Thomas met with Times North Suncoast Editor Bill Stevens at the school district's request to get advice about how to question Moschella.

Moschella was not shown the questions in advance.

Gadd took him to lunch on several occasions to ease his fears and impress upon him the importance of his story.

When Thomas first asked Moschella about the shooting, he clammed up.

"I don't know how to answer that," he said.

Later, as he grew more comfortable with the cameras and the lights -- and his mission -- the answers came more easily.

A few examples from Tuesday's interview:

Thomas: "What do you miss most about your old life?"

Moschella: "Being happy. Never depressed."

Thomas: "Have you ever thought about ending your life?"

Moschella: "I've thought about it."

Thomas: "What do you regret most?"

Moschella: "I regret ever touching that gun."

Thomas: "'Why are you doing this interview?"

Moschella: "To help other kids stay away from guns."

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