As friends and family gathered Tuesday to say their final goodbyes to a Mason teenager shot to death during an attempted robbery, Mason Mayor David Nichols is left to grapple with the question of why.
Why did Lashawn Daniels, a 19-year-old college student with no criminal history, attempt to rob a Springfield Township convenience store Dec. 10 armed with a BB gun?
Why did the poetry-writing teenager, who’d overcome the odds simply to graduate high school, not take Nichols, whom he considered a mentor, up on his offer for help?
“We’re all asking, ‘What happened? What did we miss here?’,” said Nichols. “I will always wonder and question myself, ‘Was I quick enough?’ What if, what if, what if… I have to answer that on my own.”
- Prosecutor: No charges in gas station shooting of Mason teen
Nichols vividly recalls the day he met Daniels in the spring of 2011 while visiting Mason High School. Daniels, then a senior, approached him, firmly shook his hand and asked if he were the governor.
After a few chuckles, Daniels began telling the mayor the story of his life, a sad tale of a homeless teenager from a broken home, who lived with host families his senior year of high school, but who was determined to overcome the odds and land a dream job at Procter & Gamble, said Nichols.
“He said he was determined to break the chains of his family history,” said Nichols.
The pair struck up a correspondence that lasted until just weeks before Daniels’ death. Nichols wrote letters of recommendation for the teen, who graduated in 2011, and invited him to attend city council meetings.
By most accounts, Daniels was on the path to success. He worked two jobs during the summer, moved into his own apartment and enrolled at the University of Cincinnati – Blue Ash College, according to his friends and family.
“The young man seemed to be trying to overcome so many things,” said Nichols. “He knew the odds were against him, but he was trying so hard to totally make it on his own.”
In late October, Daniels emailed Nichols and asked if he could meet with him, just days before Nichols was about to embark on extended travel.
“He told me things were getting a little rough and I asked him if he needed money. He said, no, he just needed to talk to me. I asked if this was something that could wait, and he said it could wait, ‘but don’t forget about me Mr. Mayor.’”
Within days of his return, Nichols was shocked to learn the teen had been shot and killed by store clerks while trying to hold up a gas station with a BB gun.
Nichols says he doesn’t condone Daniels’ actions, but that he doesn’t want his final moments to be his legacy. He says Daniels’ story has inspired him and other residents to better identify high-risk students and how the community can help them.
“I refuse to let a young man, who had tried to overcome so many problems and had, to let that one moment and terrible decision define him,” he said. “There has to be good that comes out of this tragedy and that’s what we’re focusing on here.”
“How many more Lashawn Daniels are out there?”