Youth football coach Donnell Hamilton killed in Indiana shooting

A man who had dedicated his life to keeping children out of the path of violence was shot dead Wednesday night while riding in a vehicle in Greenwood, Indiana.

Officers responded to the shooting near Interstate 65 and County Line Road and found a man with gunshot wounds in the passenger seat of a white pickup truck around 6:30 p.m. CT. He died at the scene, according to Indiana State Police.

The man has been identified as Richard Donnell Hamilton, 43, according to the Johnson County Coroner’s Office.

But to hundreds of families in Indianapolis, the man was known as Coach Nell.

A coach, a mentor, a father and a friend

Hamilton was the founder of the Indy Steelers youth soccer team in Indianapolis, which he started with a simple motto: Cut the echoes of gun violence so kids can learn better.

Hamilton was born and raised in Butler-Tarkington, the neighborhood near the North Side where the Indy Steelers play. He got an athletic scholarship from Western Kentucky University, where he was later kicked off the team and lost the scholarship for having guns in his car. He spent 18 months in prison.

The coach previously told IndyStar that he believes his past has broadened his ability to reach Indianapolis youth who are also going through hardships such as death in the family, gun violence and substance abuse surroundings.

“I went through what you went through,” he explained. “Your struggle is familiar to me.”

Beginning in 2005, he served as a coach, mentor, father, big brother, uncle, and teacher to the hundreds of children who have gone through his program.

Lacey Nix, whose sons played for the Steelers, said Hamilton’s example trickled down to his players.

“The way he turned his life around has literally been a road map for so many of these kids,” she said. “So when the kids are in trouble or in danger, he can talk to them because he’s been there before.”

Families whose children played in the Steelers said it was hard to overstate Hamilton’s impact on their lives on and off the court. When a player’s house burned down, the team and their families banded together to make sure the kids had everything they needed. Nix also said Hamilton and his wife hold a food drive every Thanksgiving and donate turkeys to residents of 38th Street.

“When you step into the world of the Steelers and Coach Nell, you’re part of something bigger,” Nix said. “You’re not just part of a football program, it’s a family.”

The Indy Steelers were the subject of a 20-minute documentary aired by IndyStar in March 2021 after the newspaper’s reporters spent more than two years with the football team’s players and families.

Hamilton and the Steelers learned this week that their field will undergo much-needed improvements thanks to a Lilly Endowment grant – a goal of the coach for more than a decade. The coach in a Facebook post praised the news, saying it would be great for the community.

Nix said the goal for players to have better playing conditions will not end now.

“I’m just confident that in the end you’ll see the Steelers take the field back. You will see his dream of having this pitch in Tarkington Park come true,” Nix said. “All the things he worked for for so long will happen.”

What we know, and don’t, about the shooting

The van Hamilton was in was targeted by occupants of another vehicle as they exited I-65 northbound toward County Line Road, state police say. It is not yet known how many shots were fired or the exact motive for the crime, police said.

Investigators believe the shooter was in a silver passenger car. Detectives are asking anyone with dash cameras who was in the area of ​​I-65 and County Line Road from 6:20 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. to review their recordings and contact police.

In an update Thursday, police said they were continuing to speak to witnesses who came forward and to review evidence at the crime scene.

The Indiana State Police can be contacted at 317-899-8577. Anyone with information about the shooting can also report information anonymously to Crime Stoppers at 317-262-8477.

Public safety reporter Jake Allen contributed to this article.


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