Fitness center planned as tribute

Facility is to honor Gibbons grad Fisher, fatally shot in May

March 09, 2007|By Dan Lamothe | Dan Lamothe,sun reporter

Friendly and gregarious — No matter how old or popular or muscular Justin J. Fisher became, he still clung to one childhood habit: ducking into his parents' bedroom after a night out with his buddies to tell them goodnight and grab a hug.

Friendly and gregarious -- that's how his family and friends choose to remember the Glen Burnie teenager, who was fatally shot five times by Anne Arundel County police in May. Officers said that Fisher, a freshman linebacker at Salisbury University, threatened to commit suicide, then charged at them with a pair of scissors.

Nearly nine months later, the parents he left behind struggle with their grief -- his mother and father are planning to sue the county Police Department -- but have settled on a way to memorialize their son.

They are planning to build a 3,000-square-foot fitness center at the Cardinal Gibbons High School in Baltimore, where Fisher excelled in the classroom and three sports before graduating in 2005. A fundraiser will be held tomorrow night in Severna Park.

An avid weightlifter who earned 11 varsity letters and captained the football and lacrosse teams at the all-boys' school, Fisher frequently returned even after he enrolled at Salisbury.

"He was the kind of athlete that every coach wants to have, and he worked hard at his sports when he was here," said Jesse W. Roberts, the school's vice principal.

The fundraising effort is headed by Anthony Mills, who coached Fisher and his older brother, Brandon J. Fisher, 22, in lacrosse -- Justin proudly wore his brother's number on his jersey. Mills said he left a coaching position in Fairfax, Va., and returned to Cardinal Gibbons in part to see the fitness center to completion.

"He was a team player that looked out for everybody else around him," Mills said. "I felt that this was something I needed to do, to pursue this fitness center and make sure that other kids had the opportunity to grow up and be good kids."

The current fitness center at Cardinal Gibbons is made up of old equipment, Mills said.

The first phase of the renovated center, which will bear the 18-year-old's name, will be a 1,500 square-foot weight room with plate-loaded weight resistance machines, free weights and cardiovascular equipment. It is expected to cost $60,000 to $80,000 and could be open this spring, Roberts said.

No cost estimate is available for the later stage, which will include more cardiovascular equipment and an area for high school wrestling, but Roberts said it will be funded in part by a capital campaign the school has launched.

Justin's parents, Janice and Dennis Fisher, initially started a scholarship fund in Justin's name but decided the fitness center would be more fitting because more students would benefit from it.

"We thought that the scholarship fund just wasn't Justin," she said. "Justin was about everyone; he wasn't about just one person."

Justin Fisher's friends said the way people have rallied behind the cause shows the kind of person Justin was.

"Every time you hung out with him, you were guaranteed to get a laugh out of whatever you did," said Daniel Ames, 19, a friend and high school classmate. "He was a role model, and he just wanted us to be better people. I have a great set of friends still, but there's just a hole that can't be filled with him gone."

Fisher, who had struggled with mental illness, attended his girlfriend's prom at Northeast High School, then headed to her home in Pasadena. They later argued, and his mother called police to report that he was threatening himself and her and might have been off his medications.

Officers surrounded Fisher after stopping his vehicle on Arbutus Road and spent a half-hour trying to get him to drop the 9-inch scissors. When he ran at the officers, four of them opened fire.

Fisher's case raised public debate on when police should use lethal force on the mentally disturbed, but Janice Fisher declined to comment on her son's death.

"We'd rather remember who Justin was as a person," she said.

The four officers who shot Fisher were eventually cleared of any criminal wrongdoing and have returned to active duty, police said.

"We can't even describe in words how much we miss him," Janice Fisher said. "I don't even think he realizes how many people he touched and how many people were affected by his death."

The Justin James Fisher Memorial Bull Roast and Shrimp Feast will be held from 6 p.m. to 11 p.m. tomorrow at the Columbian Center, 335 Ritchie Highway in Severna Park. Gary's Good Tunes will provide music. Tickets cost $40. Checks should be made payable to Cardinal Gibbons High School. Information: 410-987-1179.

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