- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 20, 2000

The seemingly random shooting death of a 15-year-old Boy Scout in Loudoun County, Va., has left a community shocked and a team of police investigators stumped.

Investigators with the Loudoun County Sheriff's Department were focusing yesterday on the friends and acquaintances of Eric VanNederynen, but "there's no indication he was involved with anybody who was involved with doing anything wrong," said Deputy Ed Pifer, public information officer.

"We're talking to friends, going through the school, trying to find out if he's been in trouble or hanging out with guys he shouldn't be," he said. "We have very few clues. This is going to be a tough one."

Authorities are hoping a witness steps forward with information about the shooting.

A Loudoun County officer found Eric's body on a bicycle path next to Countryside Road Friday evening after a 911 caller reported two gunshots.

Eric was on the way to a store to buy supplies for a Scouting trip that weekend. His mother told reporters that her older son heard two gunshots and ran toward the sounds, then saw Eric's body and ran home.

The location of the shooting makes it difficult to determine the way the shooting took place, Deputy Pifer said.

The shooter could have been in a wooded area about 20 feet away, driving by in a car, or even walking right up the dimly lit bike path to Eric.

"There are a number of different ways things could have happened," he said.

Eric was a junior at Broad Run High School, where he was involved in several activities, including Scouting. He was also part of a church youth group.

School seemed to return to normal for many of Eric's classmates yesterday, said Wayde Byard, a spokesman for Loudoun County Public Schools. Extra counselors remain on hand to comfort grieving students, some of whom received permission to go home.

The principal dedicated the school's moment of silence on Monday to Eric.

Mr. Byard said Broad Run High School has cliques like any place else, but little violence and no gangs.

He could not divulge personal or disciplinary action about Eric, but he said, "I've not heard a bad thing about him."

The school's band director, Jeff Kelley, told Mr. Byard that Eric "was a good kid who worked very hard at his music," and that he was always selected for the top band ensembles for his ability to play the saxophone.

Friends remembered Eric as a "humble and quiet boy who was always there" when anyone needed help.

Tim Lyberger, a youth group leader at Galilee United Methodist Church, where Eric will be remembered tomorrow night, said he called Eric many times to get advice on activities and relied on him to help organize group functions. For instance, several years ago, Eric helped run a 30-hour fast to raise money for world hunger, Mr. Lyberger said.

"It's just devastating that we lost such a great person," Mr. Lyberger said. "You could always count on him being there. He was a very quiet leader, always working quietly behind the scenes."

Eric spent most of his free time attending church services at the Galilee United Methodist Church on Broad Run Drive in Sterling, where he was an usher. Several weeks before he died, Eric spent a weekend at a spiritual retreat.

"His faith was where it needed to be and he wasn't afraid to show it," Mr. Lyberger said.

Eric admired the story of Cassie Bernall, one of the students gunned down at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., in April 1999. She reportedly was killed after telling one of the two gunmen that she believed in God.

"Eric once told me that if he had an opportunity to give up his life for someone else, he would do it in an instant," family friend Brian Ayers said. "He wasn't afraid to die. He had an incredible amount of faith in God. We know now that he's in heaven."

Aside from his church activities, Eric also loved being a Scout and spent most of his time working with the younger Scouts, Mr. Ayers said.

"Eric was hoping to make it to Eagle Scout, but he didn't really have the time, because he was always working with the younger troops," Mr. Ayers said.

"He wanted the younger kids to have a good time and to enjoy being a Scout."

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