By John Knebels
Special to The CS&T
Every day for as long as she can remember, Justin Schley would give his mother a hug and a kiss and tell her that he loved her.
But on June 21, Schley’s ability to show his mom such loving affection came to a tragic end. As he prepared to leave his West Oak Lane home to attend a Center City party, Schley reportedly was showing a friend what he thought had been an unloaded gun when it fired and struck him in the head.
By the time Michelle Schley came home from her nearby parents’ home after receiving a distress telephone call, her 17-year-old son was dead.
“I came out of the house and ran up and down the streets screaming and crying,” Michelle Schley said. “At some point shortly after, I just put everything – and I mean everything – in God’s hands. At that point, and ever since, I have felt a remarkable calm. I am at peace because Justin is with the Lord now.”
A 2009 graduate from Bishop McDevitt High School in Wyncote and a product of St. Raymond of Penafort School in Mount Airy, Schley (pronounced Schlie) was a standout football player, who a week later was scheduled to begin summer classes at Millersville University.
“Justin was a particularly kind-hearted person. He was a good young man who made us very proud,” said his mother.
The Bishop McDevitt community concurred. Longtime football coach Pat Manzi described Schley as being “well respected” and “a captain who led by example.” Several former classmates and teammates collectively characterized Schley as outgoing, dependable and always helpful. They extolled his love of children and willingness to volunteer at a nearby recreation center and church.
After bruising his kidney in a season-opening scrimmage, Schley had to miss the first half of the season. When he returned, Schley contributed 350 yards and three touchdowns on 71 carries. He was expected to play at Millersville next fall.
“He was so happy to go to college,” Michelle Schley said. “It was the first college he saw, and he said right away that that was where he wanted to be.”
Although Michelle raised Justin Baptist, as she is, she lauded both St. Raymond and Bishop McDevitt for the Catholic education her son received.
“At McDevitt, it was such a beautiful experience,” she said. “He could have attended a different school, but after seeing how well he thrived at St. Raymond’s, I was thrilled that he would have a chance to stay in a Christ-filled environment. To me, when it comes to developing and maintaining a relationship with Jesus Christ, it doesn’t matter what your denomination is. You’re centered in the Lord. You are teaching the Word of God.”
Michelle Schley, 53, said it’s been her faith in Jesus that has sustained her throughout this horrific experience.
Too, she said that her parents – Harold and Rose Schley – and “an overwhelming amount” of supporters from various directions have helped her see the face of God.
“I look at it as being supremely thankful for having had Justin for the time we had him,” she said. “He was my only child. His father (Cardinal Dougherty graduate Isaac Jenkins) and I were two old birds when we had Justin. We were blessed with a gift.”
With a definite hint of sorrow in her voice that slightly betrayed her unyielding faith, Michelle Schley sounded utterly convinced that her son is not alone.
“I am positive that our gift is now with Jesus,” she said. “I know the whole process now. I just feel a tremendous amount of peace. And I feel so very thankful.”
John Knebels can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.