A mother did what she thought was best to save her son’s life.
The death of one of her youngest child’s friends hit a little too close to home for Patricia Reichner. She had long desired to get her family out of Philadelphia, a city terrorized by gun violence for more than a decade.
She had to get her son, Omar Speights, a 17-year-old with a promising future in football, out of harm’s way.
Kristian Marche, a friend and former teammate of Speights, was shot in the back of the head Aug. 13 outside his parents’ Philadelphia home. He died the next day. Marche, a track and field standout, was just a few hours from leaving for Penn State, where he had been given a scholarship.
Reichner made the move, sending Omar to live with his brother, Jeromy Reichner, who recently transferred to Oregon State from Los Angeles Valley College to continue his own football career.
Speights, a high school senior who committed to play for the Beavers in June, was finally safe from the dangerous place Philadelphia has become.
“This time it was an athlete, just like me, going to college,” Speights said. Marche’s killing was the last straw for his mother. “For her, I think if it could happen to him, it could happen to me, it could happen to anybody.”
Research by the Philadelphia Inquirer found 159 people have been killed by guns in Philadelphia this year through this past Monday.
“Nobody should have to bury their child and nobody should have to move their child to another state to keep them safe,” Patricia Reichner told the Inquirer.
Speights has landed at Crescent Valley High, where he joins a football team chasing another deep run in the 5A state playoffs. The Raiders made the quarterfinals last fall.
It’s been somewhat of a culture shock for the young man, according to his brother and CV coach Scott Sanders.
A slower pace, more friendly surroundings and new scenery now fill his life. Sanders often noticed Speights staring off into the hills north of the school in his first few days on campus.
Sanders describes Speights as quiet and reserved. His new teammates were told of the circumstances regarding his move west before he joined them for the first time.
“They have been really receptive to what he has gone through and the tragic situation,” Sanders said. “They’ve all started just being his friend.”
Speights had practiced for about three weeks with his high school team in Philadelphia before coming to Oregon in late August. He practiced with Crescent Valley for four days before playing in his first game last Friday.
His arrival was a huge addition for the Raiders. Speights (6-foot-2, 240 pounds) is a versatile and muscular athlete likely to play defensive end or linebacker in college. He’s considered a three- or four-star prospect by recruiting sites.
Flying to Oregon, Speights was uncertain if he would be playing this fall. He had just gone through an appeal process and been granted a transfer to a new high school.
“If he didn’t get to play his last year of high school, at least he wasn’t in Philly anymore,” Jeromy Reichner said. “We wanted to make sure he was getting to college.”
Speights was cleared to play at CV through a hardship process.
Knowing that his mother had already considered the idea, Jeromy Reichner picked up the phone after Marche’s death to talk to her about making a change.
“I was kind of emotional. I was worried about keeping my entire family safe,” he said. “Omar was the first because he’s out in the open more, doing things more than my mom would be.”
Speights says “it’s better to get out of Philly” because of the danger, crime and distractions.
His brother added that many of the city’s top prep athletes flee the area for schools across the country after graduation.
Reichner started college at Temple, in the heart of Philadelphia, but only because he had no other Division I offers and was given a chance to walk on with the Owls. When the Temple coaching staff left two years later, he headed to a junior college in California.
The brothers are reunited and feeling safer. They hope their mother can soon join them in Oregon, or at least that she’ll be able to move out of Philadelphia.
Speights is adapting to a new environment while carrying the memory of his friend who is no longer with him.
“I think this experience is going to prepare me for a different way of living, make me a better all-around person,” he said.
Reichner, a junior defensive end at Oregon State, is recovering from a lower leg injury and didn’t travel with the Beavers to Ohio State for last week’s season opener.
That allowed him to watch his brother’s game last Friday, a 34-0 home win against North Salem. Speights got to play running back for the first time in high school and scored two touchdowns.
Reichner said watching his brother play in person was a time for rejoicing after all that Speights had been through.
“One of the coaches came up to me while Omar was standing next to me, and they said I was smiling the entire game, and I was,” he said. “It was just a really happy moment for me, just to see him having fun again.”