The Times West Virginian

WVU Sports

April 5, 2011

HERTZEL COLUMN - Zereoue deals with personal tragedy

MORGANTOWN — It came in the middle of a lazy Monday afternoon, storms approaching from the West, the eyes getting heavy as the day was wearing on, the television on simply for background noise. The only thing keeping you going, really, was the anticipation of the NCAA Championship game that would come with darkness.

A glance down at the computer might offer something of interest. It usually does when you summon Facebook to the rescue, but what came on the screen was unimaginable, the kind of horror you expect when you see the networks cutting away with a “Breaking News” logo on the screen.

This is what you get when a president is shot, when an earthquake destroys Japan, when the World Trade Center is downed by a pair of commercial jetliners on a clear fall morning.

Only this one was too close to home, almost too horrible to report.

It was a message from Amos Zereoue, the one-time West Virginia running back who had gone on to play for the Pittsburgh Steelers and who then had gone on to open a successful restaurant in New York City.

This was the message he filed:

“Urgent! The ivory coast is under attack by the French and U.N army as we speak. Rawanda all over again 20 members of my familly massacred by the rebels don’t kno the wereabouts of my mother. Get the word out please please.”

I present that as he wrote it, for if there are misspelled words, if there are lower case letters where capital letters should be, you can understand it.

It is an unthinkable message, yet it is all too thinkable in a world that has gone completely mad.

Be it Libya, Afghanistan, Syria or the Ivory Coast, the value of human life has become lost in worldwide insanity.

In the past, the reports of wars and natural disasters that seem to have become far more numerous than they ever were had been impersonal news stories involving people you did not know. They were heartbreaking, yes, but they occurred in an emotional vacuum.

“Damn, that’s terrible,” you would say over dinner, just before adding, “Pass the bread and butter, please.”

But this was Amos Zereoue and his family, a man you had spent much time with, a West Virginia hero from the minute he was introduced to the people.

The Facebook profile photo of him is of a smiling teen wearing an Afro and a smile, not a care in the world at that moment.

You think of the joy he brought to this entire state, a shy kid out of New York City, maybe the best high school player ever to play there. He came to West Virginia, and the first time he touched the football, he ran 60 yards to a touchdown against Pitt.

If he had stayed four years he would have set records no one ever could break, but he left early for the NFL.

Now here he was, probably in New York, maybe at his restaurant, a place a number of media members and West Virginia fans went during the Big East Tournament, getting reports that 20 members of his family had been massacred and that his mother was missing.

He referenced Rwanda, which was the last massacre in Africa, one where others like Zereoue lost family and friends, but one that didn’t strike into the heart the way this one does despite the atrocities that went on then and are going on now.

An Associated Press report Monday began this way:

“ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast (AP) — A United Nations helicopter fired at strongman Laurent Gbagbo’s forces on Monday as France authorized its military to take out his heavy weapons, an unprecedented escalation in the international community’s efforts to oust the entrenched leader.

“Gbagbo had lost the presidential elections in November but refused to cede power, sparking what is becoming an all-out civil war.

“Gbagbo is said to be using heavy weapons against civilians and peacekeepers, the U.N. Security Council condemning in the strongest terms the recent escalation of violence throughout the country, which could amount to crimes against humanity.”

That humanity may well be the family of Amos Zereoue.

Immediately, Zereoue’s Facebook friends responded in horror, offering support.

(Former WVU player) Solomon Page: Yo man, Im praying for your mom’s safety! Im sorry to for your loss... Amos, if there is anything I can do... Don’t hesitate to ask!

(Former WVU player) Jajuan Seider: I’m here for you bro. Sorry for what’s going on, I’m one phone call away if you need anything. Love you AZ.

Then there was this from a Nancy Stephens: OH, NO AMOS .. I was sooooo afraid of this sweetheart... I am just sick... I am on my knees...

And she followed it up with this: I have called my Senators and asked for an explanation as to why we have not and are not sending a peace mediator ..send Jimmy Carter...send Rev. Jackson..send someone... Don’t send the UN and France and support it! It’s needless bloodshed ......

It went on and on, the comments offering prayer and whatever help necessary flowing across Facebook, and all of a sudden the social networking site had finally found a serious reason for its existence.

Email Bob Hertzel at or reach him via Facebook.

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