In the early morning of Sunday, April 28, Dwane Simmons, 23, was tragically killed walking home from an off-campus party with his friend, Corey Ballentine. Ballentine was recently drafted to the New York Giants Saturday, April 27. Both Simmons and Ballentine were shot at the scene. When the Topeka Police arrived, Simmons’ body was found in the street. It was Ballentine who called Simmons' father to inform him of the news. Ballentine was hospitalized for his injury. Because of Ballentine’s recent draft, Simmons’ story has made local and national news.
Simmons graduated high school from Lee’s Summit West in 2014 and walked on the Washburn football team. While at Washburn, Simmons was majoring in mass media and was heading into his final football season.
Simmons was an energetic person who beamed with confidence and pride. He always carried himself with grace and swagger. His teammates and friends describe him as bright, charming, positive and the highlight of the room. That Sunday, social media was filled with friends and family sharing videos and pictures of Simmons dancing, beaming a smile and having a good time, a testament to his character.
Ballentine wrote his tribute to Simmons on Twitter April 29.
“God gives his toughest battles to his strongest soldiers. I love you forever. Thank you for being a true friend who uplifted me, corrected me when I was in the wrong, and accepted my flaws. Thank you for being a brother to me. Thank you for letting me experience your life.”
Head Football Coach, Craig Schurig, reminisces his time with Simmons.
“Beginning when he first walked on campus, he just had this confidence, competitiveness and joy every day. I didn’t think he would be able to play here because he was smaller and he never really got huge. He might have weighed 150 pounds. His attitude, though, was he was going to play and he pushed. He came on and wasn’t on scholarship starting out. His fight, attitude and enthusiasm won the coaches over. His second year he started, which is really hard to do,” said Schurig.
According to Schurig, Simmons started his second year like he was a four-year starter. Schurig reflects on his confidence and love for the game. Simmons overcame two ACL tears in his football career.
“He had the mindset to overcome. His desire, persistence and determination, all those things you want, he demonstrated it all the time. He was inspirational to coaches and players alike,” Schurig said.
Simmons impacted people in the classroom, on the football field and within the Topeka community.
Kristen Grimmer, assistant professor of mass media, had Simmons in several classes throughout his college career. Simmons was in Grimmer’s public relations course this semester. As part of the course, Simmons and his class helped plan the Annual Keynote Speaker event.
Grimmer enjoyed having Simmons as a student because of his dedication and character.
“He worked really hard. When it came to everything we had to do, I could always count on him to step up and help out. He took his studies very seriously,” Grimmer stated. “I think the thing that impressed me the most is that he was a really dedicated athlete, but he was also very dedicated to his academics, as well because he wanted a career outside of college sports.”
“He was always so encouraging to his classmates,” explained Grimmer. “Dwane had a great attitude all the time. He was just such a positive, energetic person.”
The mass media department has altered many of the final presentations and schedules due to Simmons death. The department is also starting the process for Simmons’ degree being awarded to him. This process will start in the mass media department and go to the Kansas Board of Regents.
As a student athlete, Simmons took an introduction to religion course with Assistant Professor Chris Jones this past spring. Jones speaks on behalf of the emotional trauma he has seen throughout this week.
“The level of trauma I’ve seen in students has been stunning. I know that a lot of students were at the party where it occurred. I know that a lot of students are friends of people who were at that party. In both of my classes, there was just a level of numbness,” said Jones.
Jones also gives recommendations to faculty and staff at Washburn.
“You can’t ever go wrong starting class by saying a horrible thing happened, you may be feeling all sorts of different ways about it. Here’s some phone numbers, here’s counseling services, here’s how get a hold of a counselor anytime. I always tell students, if you want to talk to a counselor, stay by after class and we’ll walk over to Kuehne together. I also have been promoting the campus advocate, Molly Steffes-Herman, very heavily because of students it appears, and I can’t diagnose, exhibiting symptoms of PTSD. Try to imagine studying for exams and writing papers when you can’t concentrate or sleep. I think a number of student might want or need to look into alternate due dates or incompletes. It’s at the discretion of the faculty but I hope that faculty will be open to those kinds of things,” said Jones.
Abby Price, a Washburn student wrote a Facebook post around noon Sunday, April 28 about the emotions of the Washburn and Topeka community.
“Dear Washburn University Faculty and Staff:
Your students are not well. You should make the assumption that they are coping with a traumatic experience regarding the events of the past 24 hours. Please show compassion and understanding.
We are approaching finals, and students may not have the capacity to complete their academic obligations to the best of their abilities... I hope you show them grace. I hope you remember the existence of an “incomplete” grade. I hope you can understand the trauma.
Dear Topeka Community:
I sincerely hope you can feel the pain rippling through you right now. I hope you can feel the utter sense of loss that has come forward. I hope you do not blame the innocent, the talented, the good willed.
I hope you give understanding and support to us, the young students of Washburn University. We are devastated. I am devastated - with hundreds of students impacted much more than me.
To the world:
It’s not just Topeka. Please do not let this senseless act of violence impact the view of our community. Please do more to address violence around you. Do more to encourage empathy and understanding. Do not blame a city boundary.
Give all the love you can to those around you. Help Topeka Police Department if you can. Be there to process with those who need it. And please, do not forget that you, Community, have people who love, cherish, and care for your existence.”
Jones expanded on Price’s thoughts of the Topeka community.
“There’s a lot of good people in this community. There’s a lot of people who are really looking out for each other and taking care of each other. We should hang on to that and value it. Topeka has been dragged through the mud a lot. I live four blocks from where the shooting happened and I love Topeka. I’m a lifer. I’m not leaving. This is a good city,” said Jones.
The Washburn campus, Topeka community and friends and family of Simmons gathered at a candlelight vigil held in the Washburn Room of the Memorial Union Tuesday, April 30 at 7 p.m. Everyone gathered at “Dwane’s heaven,” Yager Stadium, after the vigil.
The New York Giants have also asked that Ballentine stay home during the rookie mini-camp to celebrate the life of Simmons.
Simmons funeral will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday, May 4 at the United Believers Community Church, 5600 E 112 Terrace, Kansas City, Missouri. The viewing will be held from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m.
Counseling services are available in-person Monday through Friday 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Kuehne Hall. Counseling over the phone is available 24 hours a day, every day at 785-670-3100 (option 2).