Lehigh (Lehigh Acres, Fla.) High School rising senior Stef’An Strawder was one of two victims killed during a shooting at Club Blu in Fort Myers early Monday.
Strawder, a promising high school basketball player in Southwest Florida who had aspirations to play Division I college basketball, was pronounced dead at Lee Memorial Hospital at 3:30 a.m., according to his mother Stephanie White.
The 18-year-old was shot in his right shoulder as he walked through Club Blu’s door on his way to the parking lot, his mother said. White heard Strawder had pushed his cousin out of the way right before he was hit.
Strawder’s sister, Sharrelle, 19, also suffered a gunshot wound to the leg in the incident, according to their mother.
“Why him? Why Stef?” White said. “No matter where he went, everyone invited him into their home like he was their own. People loved him.”
Strawder was the catalyst for Lehigh’s offense during a 19-8 season, averaging 15.6 points, 5.5 assists and 2.8 steals per game. He was also a member of the Florida Future Elite 17U team, which competed at the AAU National Championship Showcase Orlando over the weekend.
He returned from the tournament Saturday and ate dinner with family at his aunt’s Sunday before he wen to Club Blu. White said he hugged everyone and told them he loved them before he left.
Lehigh administrators, coaches, teachers and boys basketball met inside the school gymnasium to grieve and deal with Strawder’s death. More than 25 current and former players arrived for the meeting.
“We might not understand this now, but we have to come together and our faith will help us get through this,” said former Lightning coach Dawn McNew, who resigned following the 2016 season.
Strawder was inside Lehigh’s walls as recently as Tuesday, when current Lehigh coach Greg Coleman said the team held a weight-lifting session and an open run on the court. Fluid as ever, the 5-foot-8 guard wiggled through traffic, nailed jump shots on the run, and led with his play.
Over the summer, he was a member of the Florida Future Elite 17U team, which competed at the AAU National Championship Showcase Orlando over the weekend. Considered a talented player with great ability, Strawder had hoped one day to play college basketball. McNew had said Florida Gulf Coast University had shown interest.
“Everyone wanted to be like Stef,” Coleman said of his senior playmaker.
Strawder returned from the AAU tournament Saturday and went to the school to train. On Sunday he went to church at St. Mary’s Progressive Missionary Baptist Church with his mother, and then ate dinner with family at his aunt’s. White said he hugged everyone and told them he loved them before he left.
Before he went, White told him to be aware. “I told him to know your surroundings. Know where the exits are,” White said.
Strawder’s Lehigh teammates were stunned that he had been taken from them.
Lehigh junior guard Jar’Tavius Martin, in particular, took the news hard. Martin was in Orlando with Strawder over the weekend playing with the Florida Future U16 club. He went to the school Monday for a workout, but by the afternoon he found himself on a bench, alone, coming to grips with a teammate lost.
“He was like a brother to me,” said Martin, who along with his older brother Jarvis were two of Strawder’s closest friends. “I looked up to him. He always inspired me every day. He always had a smile on his face.”
Strawder’s travel team coach, Mike Bonilla, was shaken by the news as well.
“I’m kind of numb,” said Bonilla, who was an assistant and interim head coach at Lehigh last season. “He’s a great kid. There aren’t enough words in the dictionary to describe that kid. He loves everyone.”