A man who dedicated his life to keeping children out of the way of violence was gunned down in a vehicle Wednesday night in Greenwood, Indiana.
Officers responded to the shooting near Interstate 65 and County Line Road and found a man with gunshot wounds in the front passenger seat of a white pickup truck at approximately 6:30 p.m. CT. He died at the scene, according to the Indiana State Police.
The man was identified as Richard Donnell Hamilton, 43, according to the Johnson County Coroner’s Office.
But the man was known to hundreds of Indianapolis families as Coach Nell.
Coach, mentor, father and friend
Hamilton was the founder of the Indianapolis youth soccer team, the Indy Steelers, which he started with a simple motto: deaden the echoes of gun violence so kids can learn a better way.
Hamilton was born and raised in Butler-Tarkington, the neighborhood near the North Side where the Indy Steelers play. He received an athletic scholarship from Western Kentucky University, where he was later kicked out of the team and lost the scholarship for having guns in his car. He spent 18 months in prison.
The coach previously told IndyStar he believes his past has enhanced his ability to reach Indianapolis youth who are also going through hardships such as death in the family, gun violence and substance abuse.
“I went through what you went through,” he explained. “Your struggle is familiar to me.”
As of 2005, he served as a coach, mentor, father, big brother, uncle, and teacher to hundreds of children who came through his program.
Lacey Nix, whose sons played for the Steelers, said Hamilton’s example resonated among his players.
“The way he transformed his life was literally a roadmap for so many of these kids,” she said. “So if the kids are in trouble or danger, he can talk to them because he’s been there before.”
Families whose children played for the Steelers said it’s hard to exaggerate Hamilton’s impact on their lives on and off the field. When a player’s home burned down, the team and their families banded together to make sure the kids had everything they needed. Nix also said that every Thanksgiving, Hamilton and his wife hosted a food drive and gave away turkeys to people along 38th Street.
“When you get into the world of the Steelers and Coach Nells, you become part of something bigger,” Nix said. “You’re not just part of a football program, it’s a family.”
The Indy Steelers were the focus of a 20-minute documentary released by IndyStar in March 2021 after the newspaper’s journalists spent more than two years with the football team’s players and families.
Hamilton and the Steelers received word this week that their field will see much-needed improvements through a Lilly Endowment stipend – a goal the coach has been aiming for for over a decade. The coach praised the news in a post on Facebook, saying it would be great for the community.
Nix said the goal for players to have better playing conditions doesn’t stop now.
“I’m just hopeful that you’ll end up seeing the Steelers get back on the field. You’ll see his dream of having that field at Tarkington Park come true,” said Nix. “All the things he has worked for so long will happen.”
What is and isn’t known about the shooting
The Hamilton van that Hamilton was driving was attacked by occupants of another vehicle as they exited northbound I-65 to County Line Road, according to state police. How many shots were fired or the exact motive for the crime is not known at this time, police said.
Investigators believe the shooter was in a silver car. Detectives are asking anyone with dash cams who was on I-65 and County Line Road from 6:20 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. to review their records and contact the police.
In an update Thursday, police said they are continuing to speak to witnesses who have come forward and are examining evidence at the scene.
The Indiana State Police can be reached 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.