Anthony Hartfield Jr. did everything an inner-city youth is supposed to do.
He stayed in school. He said no to drugs. He got into college.
It wasn't enough to keep Hartfield from becoming a casualty of the inner-city gun violence that ends so many young lives. He was gunned down about 3:20 a.m. Monday when someone kicked in the door of his father's home in northeast Oklahoma City and started firing.
His death devastated many who knew him, from his friends and family to teachers and staff at U.S. Grant High School, where Hartfield was a role model they could hold up for other students to show them what was possible if they applied themselves.
Beating the odds
The dropout rate at U.S. Grant is the highest in the Oklahoma City school district at 9.5 percent. Gangs and drugs are a constant temptation. So are more simple motivations like needing to eat, said Robert Barger, a teacher at the school and Hartfield's former basketball coach.
“Sometimes we give them boxes of food just to eat over the weekend,” Barger said of his students. “I had a kid a few years ago who couldn't afford shoes for track. They can't always afford T-shirts for practice.”
Barger said one of the reasons he likes coaching is that athletes are more likely to stay away from drugs, gangs and many of the other choices that lead students to drop out.
That held true for Hartfield, who graduated last year.
Family members said Hartfield learned to be a leader early in life. He was the oldest of three children.
His parents split up when he was young, and he lived with his mother in Minnesota, while his father was in Oklahoma City.
“He was always the big brother,” said his uncle, Aundaray Guess. “He made sure he watched over his family, that no harm came to them.”
Guess, who lived in Minnesota at the time and now lives in New York City, said he tried to be a role model for Hartfield and his siblings.
“I wanted to make sure they got to experience what other kids experienced,” Guess said. “I would take them out to movies, putt-putt golf, whatever.”
Hartfield was determined even at a young age. Some members of his extended family had drug and alcohol problems, and he grew up seeing the destruction that could cause, Guess said.
“He didn't want that to happen to him,” Guess said. “He knew what he wanted to do. He always talked about basketball. I know it was a release for him. I know it helped him not get caught up in things going on around him.”
Basketball was Hartfield's passion. And he was good at it. He moved to Oklahoma City to live with his father two years ago and became a star for U.S. Grant right away.
Hartfield was a Big All-City and All-State honorable mention basketball selection by The Oklahoman in both 2011 and 2012.
Teachers, Barger said, live for the kids who keep a positive attitude and work for success despite their obstacles.
“That was Anthony,” Barger said. “That's what hurts so much. He was such a role model. At Grant, we don't win a lot of ballgames. But because they all come together, we become a family.”
Hartfield was a team leader both because of his work ethic and his personality, his coach said. He wanted to be in the gym, and his teammates wanted to be with him.
“I picked Anthony up every morning last year at 6 a.m.,” Barger said. “He would come in an hour and a half before school just to get an extra 500 shots in. He stayed after school, too, and he and the guys would play games against each other. Most of the time, I took him home. A lot of times, I'd have to turn the lights off in the gym to get them to stop.”
New Year's resolution
Hartfield was accepted to Connors State College in Warner, where he played on the basketball team last semester. He planned to major in nursing, a choice that didn't surprise Barger because Hartfield always wanted to help people.
But money became an issue, as did a growing separation from his father, Guess said. “His New Year's resolution was to get closer to his father,” Guess said.
Anthony Hartfield Sr. said there wasn't a bad bone in his son's body.
He said the two were more like close friends or brothers at times.
“I had to remind him, ‘Son, I'm your father,'” Anthony Hartfield Sr. said.
Hartfield was working on his New Year's resolution the night he was killed. He was visiting his father's house at 1215 NE 46 when someone kicked in the door and started shooting.
Police haven't released many details and said they don't have a motive for the shooting. Friends and relatives said two people tried to get into the house. Hartfield tackled one before the other shot him with a rifle.
“The kid was a hero,” Barger said. “When they kicked in that front door, he wasn't going to let them past him to hurt anyone else.”
Staff Writer Vallery Brown