Richard Stinson is dead.

I wanted this New Year’s column to brim with hope for a brighter tomorrow, lifting our spirits after a holiday season of inside sports, such as competitive eating and politics. A splash of cold water in the face instead.

Richard grew up with my kids at Merriman Park Elementary School. I coached him in youth basketball and football. He was always the star, according to him. My son, Rhett, remembers me trying to teach Richard that there’s no I in TEAM. He would reply, “I know, Coach, but there is an I in WIN.”

Richard and Rhett became friends in that natural way boys do who share the same class and uniform. They were friends also in that awkward way that comes from not sharing the same background. The latter made for early life lessons that have now ended with some regret.

Richard took a liking to our whole family. He once showed up at our front door looking to play. When he learned Rhett wasn’t home, he invited himself in anyway and spent the afternoon playing with his friend’s little sister, Jillian. He was always the entertainer, though never the host.

One Friday afternoon, we picked up Richard on the corner near the Sunflower Apartments where he lived. He showed up with suitcase in hand. We asked him why he was packed, and he told us he was spending the weekend. OK, then.

Richard came to church with us that Sunday, wearing a fine red velvet suit. He joined us at a Super Bowl party that afternoon at the Carvers’ house. Everyone was glad to add a chair to the table for Richard.

Richard moved away during junior high but returned briefly to Lake Highlands High School. Rhett lost touch with him over the years. The internet was quiet until a chance remembrance led to a fresh Google search. The news was bad. Richard had been murdered in his home in Lawton, Oklahoma, on March 3 of 2019, the same day as Rhett’s son’s second birthday.

The murder is unsolved. An African American young man, who had done time in prison for drugs, was shot in his home. It would be sadly easy to make judgments about what inspired the murder or about why Richard’s killer is still at large. This is the world we yet live in — too much crime, too many un-convicted or wrongly convicted criminals.

I wonder what more we could have or should have done to be the village he needed to make it beyond age 34. Being neighbors involves more than living in the same neighborhood.

Rhett wrote a eulogy for Richard and shared it with our family. It read in part: “I hope his friends and family know how much joy he brought me. Because of Richard, I will make sure my two boys grow up with keen awareness and look for opportunities to open their hearts to those who need it most.”

Rest in peace, Richard.