BY KAYLEEN CUBBAL KCUBBAL@NCNEWSONLINE.COM





At first glance, Donnie Watters appears to be a typical 17-year-old. He just got his first car. His first girlfriend. His first job. He is coming off a high school baseball season that many players can only dream of, batting .447 for Shenango High School to finish as the fifth-leading hitter in Lawrence County. Life is good. Or so it seems.





A PAINFUL PAST The sadness in the steel-blue eyes reveals what Donald Richman Watters III admits is a troubled soul. "Life has been tough," he said. "I am in a constant battle to try and rise above everything that has happened." What has happened to young Donnie Watters is probably more than the average person could even fathom. "It's something that would happen to someone else," Donnie said. "Not to someone you know and certainly not to yourself." On Aug. 27, 2000, Donnie's mother, Connie, shot her estranged husband, Donald R. Watters II, as he was sitting in a lawn chair in the driveway of his parents' Shenango Township home, then turned the gun on herself. Donnie, his grandmother, Peggy, and friends Randy and Tina Rogan and their young son also were sitting in the driveway. Donald Watters II died instantly. Connie Watters died the next day. After witnessing the shooting, Donnie, then 11, ran screaming to the home of his aunt, Terry Watters, who lives two doors away from her parents. Terry, whom Donnie calls Tata, raced to her parents' home and found her brother still sitting in the chair. She attempted to administer CPR, but it was too late. Donald and Donnie had been living in the Roy Drive home of his parents, Donald Sr. and Peggy, for a year and a half before the shooting as Donald II sought a divorce from a long-troubled marriage.





FINDING HIS PLACE Donnie's grandparents became his legal guardians and his aunts Terry and Lori Gricks and her family enveloped him with love and caring. Two months after Donnie's parents' deaths, the smile returned to his face for the first time when he served as team manager for Terry's WPIAL champion Laurel High girls volleyball team. Still, Donnie said, he had a hard time feeling like he belonged. "Everything changed. I knew my grandparents and aunts were there for me, but I missed my dad. We did everything together. I felt lost. Every day it gets a little easier, but I still feel lost," Donnie said with painful honesty. Donnie admits built-up anger caused him to make some bad decisions in the years following the tragedy, but he said he doesn't like to talk about it because he is trying to put it behind him. He also doesn't want to talk about his sister, Brittany, now 20, who was living with her mother at the time of the shootings and is now with maternal family. NO EASY TASK Donnie recognizes that Donald Sr., who is 77, and 74-year-old Peggy no doubt have their hands full with a precocious teen-ager. "They're really strict with bedtime and curfews and things like that," he said. "I get frustrated because my friends don't have to follow the rules that I do. But I know I push them to the limit sometimes. I don't think I'd want to be their age trying to raise a 17-year-old." Terry said that while her parents and Donnie are often at odds, they work things out in the end. "There are definitely some issues, but for what he's been through, I'd have to say that Donnie has come through it pretty well," Terry said. "Basically, he's a teen-age kid. "Yeah, he got a raw deal, we all did. I miss my brother like crazy; it changed all of our lives forever. But we're not the only ones in the world this has happened to." One thing that kept Donnie grounded in the six years since his parents' deaths has been baseball. Donald II and Terry were both outstanding athletes, with Donnie following in his dad's footsteps as a baseball star at Shenango High. He began playing T-ball at age 5 and stuck with it. But he never really stood out until 2006, his junior season at Shenango, when he became one of the most feared hitters in Section 5-AA while playing several positions defensively, mostly third base. "I just got tired of being an average player," he said. "I adjusted my swing and started applying myself in drills and things started to come around. "I still have some work to do on defense, but that's what I'm going to concentrate on for next year." He also had the support of Stevie Crisci, his girlfriend of five months and his first serious relationship. "It's been nice to have someone to connect with," he said. "But probably one of the toughest things over the past six years has been looking up in the stands and seeing everyone else's dad and mine isn't there. "I can't help thinking sometimes, 'Why did this happen to me? Why didn't it happen to some other kid?' "





MOVING FORWARD Donnie said he is doing his best to put the past behind and concentrate on the future. "I'd be lying if I said I didn't think about it every single day, sometimes over and over again," he said. "It's not like it's anything you ever get over, but I know you have to try and get past it or you're not going to be able to go on with your life." Donnie said he would like to play baseball beyond high school and his plan is to major in criminal justice or law enforcement in college -- possibly at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. "I want to dedicate my life to making sure that what happened to my dad never happens to anyone else," he said. Donnie also is a member of the swim team at the New Castle Community Y and likes to go boating with his friends. He said he leans heavily on his 18-year-old cousin and best friend, Todd Gricks, who serves as a voice of reason when Donnie begins to struggle. "I don't like to talk about all this a lot, but when I need to, Todd is always the person I know I can go to," he said. "He's pulled me back up a lot of times when I felt like I wasn't going to make it." Donnie said he looks forward to the day when he can put the resentment behind and think of his dad with no sadness. He has made just two trips to his father's grave in six years. "It's just too hard," he said. "I know it gets better, but it's just such a slow process. "I wish my dad had been here to see this baseball season, because I know he would have loved it. But it helps just knowing that he would be proud."



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