Derrell Pruett feels free because somebody else is behind bars.
William Cromwell, a 22-year-old resident of Westwood, was arrested Jan. 5 on a grocery list
of changes. Among them: domestic violence, driving without a license, contempt of court,
carrying a concealed weapon and probation violations. There's also a felonious assault charge
for putting a bullet in a teen-ager's leg.
Derrell is that teen. Last summer, I wrote about the day he was shot, the damage to his leg
and how one bullet has threatened his peace of mind as well as his dreams of playing basketball
on his school team.
He had just finished a pick-up game of basketball not far from his Mount Airy home. As
Derrell climbed into a van, a player from the losing team approached joined by a man with a gun
who started firing. A 9mm slug ripped into the side of the van, passed through the teen's left
leg and lodged in his right thigh.
That was July 3. Derrell's leg wounds healed in about a month. But his mental hurt took
longer to fade.
Suffering from delayed stress syndrome, common with gunshot victims, he was in and out of
the hospital until mid-October. He missed most of the first two months of classes at Aiken High
School, where he's a 10th-grader.
So much for his goal of being ''back to normal'' for the start of the 1995-96 school
So much for his years-long record of perfect attendance.
Derrell's record for being a good student athlete was also shattered by the shooting.
Before he took that bullet in the leg, he had been a B-student and a starting guard on the
school basketball team. As he sits by the trophies on display in his family's kitchen, he lowers
his eyes and admits he's ''makin' Cs and Ds. I'm having trouble with Spanish and biology.''
And, he's not on the school team because of his grades and the shooting.
''He didn't feel comfortable being out there, being exposed,'' says his mother, Kim Pruett,
''as long as the guy who shot him was loose.''
William Cromwell won't be getting loose any time soon. He's being held without bond at the
justice center. You don't receive a ''get out of jail'' card when you're charged with felonious
assault and carrying a concealed weapon.
Derrell remembers the day he learned the gunman was under arrest. Between nervous bites of
popcorn, he describes his feelings with one word:
He now feels free to come and go as a 16-year-old pleases. No more looking over his
''I feel more comfortable when I'm outside with my friends.''
Those friends and his family helped Derrell throughout his ordeal. ''I've had lots of
friends around. They've been good to me,'' he says. ''And, my mother and my grandmother have
been babying me a little bit.''
Kim Pruett overhears this and stomps into the kitchen. Acting like she's mad, she raises
her voice and asks: ''A little bit? Who got more Christmas presents than usual? Who's been
hugged a lot? Who's still getting little presents all the time?''
Derrell grins and sheepishly says: ''Me.''
For an instant, he looks like an innocent kid. Then, his grin fades and he looks more
grown-up. Since the shooting, he's gained 9 pounds in weight and 2 inches in height. He's also
gained a wary, adult look on his face that says he knows the dangers that lurk on the
Sixteen-year-old kids should not have that look. They should not have to dread taking the
witness stand in court and identifying a criminal with the words: ''He's the one who shot
They should not have their eyes get moist when someone asks them if they have anything to
say to William Cromwell.
''I want to ask him: 'Why?' '' Derrell says.
'' 'Why did you shoot me? Why did you put that bullet in my leg?' '' He reaches for another
piece of popcorn. He bites down hard and chews fast.
Looking away, he whispers:
''I'm still mad at that guy.''
Cliff Radel's column appears in The Enquirer Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
Available to speak to groups. Call 768-8379 or fax at 768-8340.