Sometimes lost in the chaos and confusion that rocked the Harrison community in the weeks, months and even years after Robert Viscome's death was the story of the person the world lost on that tragic day in the spring of 2002.
It was 10 years ago this week that Viscome, then 17, died, succumbing to head injuries he suffered after being punched at an unsupervised high school drinking party. The punch that started it all and the confused efforts of students at the party to cover up the incident, or at least move it to a nearby park, was widely reported, bringing conversations about underage drinking and irresponsible teens to the public forefront.
But as the years have gone by, it's now the person the community lost that day, not the unimaginable sequence of events leading up to his death, that friends choose to remember.
"He was a right tackle, he was a defensive tackle in football, so you would think this big bruiser, but he was more of a teddy bear," high school teammate and friend Pete Kohlasch said of Viscome. "He was a big likeable guy with a big smile, he had a certain zest for like and he made that apparent no matter who he was with."
Kohlasch, 27, was a junior at Harrison on April 23, 2002, when school was reportedly let out early because of an electrical failure and a group of students threw a party in a Harrison home. He was playing in a varsity baseball game that afternoon when he heard about the incident.
"When you first hear about it you don't necessarily know how serious it is," he recalls. "You would never have guessed it was as serious as it was."
Unfortunately, it was serious. According to reports following the incident, Viscome was punched after an argument during the party, fell and fractured his skull against a porch patio. He went into a coma and died on April 30, 2002.
"It was a crazy time, only because I don't think anyone was used to that kind of catastrophe," Kohlasch said. "You become a little shell-shocked."
After Viscome's death, media reports focused on the teenagers at the party, who reportedly hesitated to call 911 while Viscome lay bleeding on the ground. Police reports eventually indicated that some students at the party eventually tried to move Viscome's body to a park—away from the house—before eventually bringing him to a hospital.
Harrison's student body was painted with a less than flattering brush, one report by the New York Times concluded with a bit about some of the teens at the party stopping for fast food on the way to the hospital.
But amid all of the controversy, Kohlasch remembers many of the students rallying together amidst chaotic circumstances. The Harrison football team, on which Viscome played the previous year, dedicated their 2002 season to Viscome and went on to win the New York State championship that fall. A rock was painted with Viscome's number 77 at the front entrance of the high school.
The rock remains preserved there to this day.
"Typically those things get painted over every day, if not every other day," said Kohlasch. "We obviously put it up right when it happened and of course people left it for a couple of weeks, and then a couple of weeks became a couple of months and then it's something that even 10 years after the fact... when I drive back through Harrison I see that tribute and it just goes to show you it kind of hit home for everyone."
The Westchester County District Attorney's office eventually brought charges against the student who threw the punch; the case was sealed that fall, according to reports, because of the student's age. Controversy swirled for most of the year about the fairness of those charges considering the gravity of what happened.
But looking back 10 years later, the criminal and civil matters aren't as important anymore. What most will remember is the life cut too short and the 17-year-old who never made it to graduation.
"He was known as that big brother type that had a great zest for life," Kohlasch said. "It was encouraging to be around him because he was so positive and upbeat."
And as current students and alumni drive by the rocks in front of this week, there's nothing more important to remember than that.
"It's definitely left its impact on all of us, even to this day it's something that I'm still living with," said Kohlasch. "That's him, that's because of who he was."