Abed Abu-Khadier woke up at 8 a.m. Monday to a barrage of texts and missed calls.
The Lehigh Senior High graduate couldn’t believe what he was seeing. His former Lightning boys basketball teammate Stef’An Strawder had been shot and killed at Club Blu in Fort Myers hours earlier.
“This is something new to me,” said Abu-Khadier, a 2015 Lehigh graduate. “I’ve never experienced someone so close to me die. It’s real tragic. It’s heartbreaking. I woke up this moment. I didn’t know how to react to it.”
Strawder, 18, who was shot in the shoulder according to his mother, Stephanie White, was transported to Lee Memorial Hospital. He was later pronounced dead around 3:30 a.m. after attempts to revive him were unsuccessful.
Inside the Lehigh Senior High gymnasium Monday afternoon, current and former players met with coaches and administrators to help each other through the tragic event.
Lehigh coach Greg Coleman and former Lightning coach Dawn McNew, along with Lehigh principal Jackie Corey, coordinated the gathering. Counselors were on hand to speak to nearly 25 student-athletes and graduates.
“It is a great loss for all of us,” Corey said. “I am sad for our community today.”
A season ago, Strawder averaged 15.6 points, 5.5 assists and 2.8 assists per game as the Lightning, who went 19-8, reached the Region 6A-3 playoffs. But to many of his peers on Monday, his loss extended far beyond the basketball court. Strawder was an inspiring student-athlete.
“Quite frankly, it’s like losing a son,” said McNew, who met Strawder five years ago when she became the Lightning boys basketball head coach.
McNew’s work on the bench transformed Strawder into the type of player who rattled opposing guards with his effortless ball handling, dazzling moves through the paint and unshakable confidence from behind the arc. He was a star in the making, almost destined to play on a college basketball court some day.
“He was one of the most talented players we’ve ever seen,” said McNew, commenting that local college Florida Gulf Coast University was interested in the guard. “The future was bright for him.”
Strawder was also a caring, smart, funny and polite. On Sunday morning, he attended church with his mother at St. Mary’s Progressive Missionary Baptist Church. Teachers remember him as a hard worker, Corey said, and coaches admired the 5-foot-8 guard for his tenacity.
That included Dwayne Jackson, a Mariner High graduate who operates Hoops on a Mission, a training company that intends to inspire and empower young athletes to be faith driven.
Strawder often reached out to Jackson, a former neighbor to the family when he was at Mariner High, for advice. Jackson said he believed he was becoming a stronger man the older he got. Strawder’s 18th birthday was June 16.
“His presence, when he walked in the room, that was Stef’An,” Jackson said. “He resembled that on the court. He was competitive. He was a winner. But he was a stand-up guy his whole life. He was growing, like all of us. It’s a very sad day for this community.”
Teammates were inspired by his work ethic. Younger players viewed him as a mentor.
“I definitely think this will touch a lot of people,” Mariner High boys basketball coach James Harris said. “I’ve talked to players and it has touched them. It’s going to touch a lot of lives. And you just, you hope that moving forward this loss isn’t for nothing. He continues to touch other people. And I just feel really bad for his family. And I can’t imagine what a parent, or how a parent deals with that. I feel for his teammates and his team and his school.”
Senior Jarvis Martin, whose successes on the court often mirrored Strawder’s, had seen his teammate prior to Sunday’s party at Club Blu.
“I told him not to go,” Martin said. “I said don’t do it, don’t do parties. Let’s stay in and go out and play basketball.”
Martin had been teammates with Strawder on a local AAU team, Florida Future. They returned from a trip to Orlando on Saturday.
“We just came home, we were talking about the past and what our senior year was going to be like,” Martin said. “We came back to Fort Myers. And then this. It hurts really bad.”
But former teammates like BJ Edwards, 20, also felt his loss. As a senior in 2013-2014, he remembers mentoring Strawder through a successful season. Yet, he also saw an experience beyond his youthful exterior.
“He had such a mature attitude,” Edwards said. “Even when we were down, he brought us up. It’s crazy. He had that at such a young age, but he did.
“This is the toughest thing I’ve ever had to deal with.”
Abu-Khadier, who along with Strawder led the Lightning to a Region 6A-3 finals appearance in 2014-15, spoke to him Tuesday. They talked about Kevin Durant’s move from the Oklahoma City Thunder to the Golden State Warriors.
Abu-Khadier vowed to accomplish the goals he and Strawder set as basketball players.
“He was a hard-working kid,” he said. “He had a bright future ahead of him. I’m going to work twice as hard so I can make up for what he can’t do.”