One of the hardest things about Jordan Edwards’ murder is dealing with the silence, even 16 months later.
For Edward’s teammates on the Mesquite High School football team, it’s the crypt of a locker that’s almost impossible to look at as they dress for practices and games throughout last season and the start of this one.
Friends and classmates have and will continue to listen for that familiar voice that will never echo in the school’s halls.
Vidal Allen, who wore Edwards’ jersey last season as a senior, likely thinks about the big crowds that will never cheer on his stepbrother.
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And for his family, there is still a mute, empty chair at the dinner table.
Then, the questions begin, many of which certainly still linger. Could his death have been prevented? How did this happen and why?
Until this week, the most important question to some, selfishly or not: would his killer get justice?
The answer to that last one likely depends on the person.
Roy Oliver, a then-Balch Springs police officer, fired five shots into the Impala where Edwards was a passenger on April 29, 2017. Allen was in the driver’s seat. The boys were trying to leave a house party that had gotten out of control. Edwards, 15, was shot once in the back of his head and later died at a hospital.
On Tuesday, the man who killed a friend, a teammate, a brother and a son, was found guilty of murder. And on Wednesday, Oliver was sentenced to 15 years in prison by a Dallas County jury.
Before Mesquite took the field at Wildcat-Ram Stadium in Dallas to face Lake Highland High School on Friday night, the Skeeters, the Wildcats and all supporting the two teams came together to once again honor the life of Jordan Edwards.
And as the typically irksome North Texas sun set for the final time this August, everyone in the stadium stood still underneath those sweat-soaked lights for a different moment of silence.
Despite the kind gesture by Lake Highlands administrators, the crowd was a little too hyped-up for that moment to last very long. This was, after all, the opening week of high school football in the state of Texas.
However, the minutes leading up to the verdict on Tuesday and the sentencing on Wednesday brought palpable tension and soundless moments where people were left to imagine the worst possible outcomes. What if Oliver received a light sentence? Or worse, what if he wasn’t found guilty at all?
Few law enforcers make it to trial, or are convicted for on-duty shooting deaths, research shows. Oliver’s conviction marked the first time since 1973 that a non-duty officer in Texas was convicted of killing someone in a shooting.
But body cameras and Oliver’s own partner at the scene led a jury to a decision that bucked that trend, as many celebrated the conviction and sentencing moments after they were read aloud.
Although, Edwards’ mother, Charmaine, and others said they believed the sentencing was too light.
Edwards was killed the Saturday before the team began their spring practice last year. Mesquite head football coach Jeff Fleener was new to the program and had only known Edwards for six weeks before the shooting.
But he knew even before tragedy struck that his players cared deeply about the departed.
Edwards’ undeserved death at the hands of a police officer also connects directly to the movement started by former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick that has seen dozens of players across the NFL take a knee during the national anthem as a form of protest against social injustices. Arguably the most prominent of those injustices has been the issue of police brutality against young African-Americans.
Fleener said that while he’s tried his hardest to keep much of his team’s focus between the sidelines, he’s encouraged his players to be aware of everything that has been going on around them, too.
“Last year when it came up at that first game, they came and talked to me and I told them they needed to come back and talk about why (you) want to do something,” Fleener said. “And we came to the agreement about linking arms as a show of support for each other, because I think everyone knew what that stood for.
“That’s how we decided to have attention to it, because I think it is important for these young men to have that opportunity… My dad is a Vietnam veteran and the flag is an important thing to me. But I also 100 percent understand why people are kneeling and linking arms, because there are some thing out there that have to get fixed and get better.”
In total, the time between when the crime took place and the verdict was read amounted to almost 486 days. Yet, earlier in the week, Fleener said that when he and his players received the verdict at practice, there was a sense of relief.
“I think what you saw this week was some things (the conviction and verdict) heading in the right direction,” Fleener said. “We talk to these kids about never being satisfied with something that’s good enough. And making sure they are doing the things in their lives to get better to push themselves so that if they want to see more change that they can be part of the solution, not part of the problem.”
Fleener’s players echoed that sentiment.
“It was weighing on us for a long time,” Mesquite senior wide receiver Devin Davis said. “We were trying to do our part. We feel like he (Edwards) can finally rest because he got justice.”
By the time the final horn sounded, Mesquite came up just short, losing by a score of 45-35.
“We carry him in practice us in the practice games every day,” Davis. “We pray to him a lot and hope that he can see us through some of this.”
After the game, Fleener was asked if the program would retire Edwards’ jersey. His answer made it clear that that number and that jersey would never be silent.
“We want it to be an honor and something that has to be earned,” Fleener said. “We want that number eleven on the field. Because of every rep that he missed, practice and game, from when he was killed to forever, we want that jersey on the field.
“The other part of it is that for years to come we will get to tell every single class about Jordan Edwards. In a few years, none of the kids are going to know him, personally. They may know of him, but it will give us an opportunity to talk about that jersey number, Jordan and why it’s such a big deal.”
Star-Telegram reporters Nichole Manna and Anna Tinsley contributed to the story.