Just hours after rejoicing with a teammate who had earned the opportunity to play at the highest level, Washburn University’s football team experienced the other end of the emotional spectrum Sunday morning when news surfaced that defensive back Dwane Simmons died in a central Topeka shooting.
Simmons, a 5-foot-9, 170-pound junior from Lee’s Summit, Mo., was found dead early Sunday when Topeka police officers responded to a disturbance that involved gunfire at 1400 S.W. 13th.
“Heartbreaking news about Dwane Simmons,” Washburn coach Craig Schurig said. “Dwane is one of the most energetic and well-liked players I have ever coached at Washburn. Dwane’s infectious smile and love for football and his teammates was truly inspirational. Our prayers of healing go out to his family, his parents Navarro and Yasmine Simmons and Chaquilla Williams.”
Also injured during the incident was All-American Corey Ballentine, the Ichabods’ star cornerback and former Shawnee Heights High School athlete who was selected by the New York Giants in the sixth round of the NFL draft on Saturday. Ballentine, 23, was being treated at a local hospital after also being shot, sources told The Topeka Capital-Journal.
Topeka police Lt. Andrew Beightel said in a news release that Ballentine’s injury wasn’t life-threatening. Ballentine was taken to a hospital by private vehicle, Beightel said.
“Any time we lose a student it is a sad occasion, but it is particularly poignant to lose a student through such a senseless act,″ Washburn President Jerry Farley said in a letter to the Washburn community. “Both Dwane and Corey have been great examples and representatives of the football team and of Washburn University in general.
“This was a terrible way to end a day which should have been a day of celebration and a day to look forward to Dwane’s upcoming year at Washburn and the beginning of Corey’s professional career.″
Simmons, 23, who cracked the Ichabods’ lineup as a redshirt freshman in 2015, overcame ACL tears to both knees to return to action last fall.
He had been sidelined for the final two games of ’15, all of ‘16 and the last 10 games in ‘17, but returned to turn in a productive season last year, including an 18-yard pass interception for a touchdown in the Ichabods’ 63-7 rout over Missouri Southern.
Simmons told The Capital-Journal in an interview last fall how his injuries had affected his outlook.
“It’s more than a game to me now,” Simmons said. “I came in as a walk-on and had to earn a scholarship, then tore an ACL, redshirted and tore another one. It really puts everything in perspective that this game can be taken away from you in a blink of an eye. So I take this game to heart. I get emotional about this stuff and I take this game very, very seriously, and I’m having a great time.”
Ballentine, a 6-0, 205-pounder, concluded his stellar WU career last fall by making 50 tackles with three interceptions and three blocked kicks. He also starred as a returner for the Ichabods.
The Giants chose him early in the sixth round with the draft’s 180th overall selection.
“We are aware of the tragic situation and continue to gather information,” the Giants said in a statement. “We have spoken to Corey, and he is recovering in the hospital. Our thoughts are with Dwane Simmons’ family, friends and teammates and the rest of the Washburn community.”
Topeka police have initiated a homicide investigation, Lt. Jerry Monasmith said in a news release. Monasmith said police discovered Simmons when they arrived at the scene about 12:45 a.m. Sunday.
Police spokeswoman Gretchen Koenen said the shooting occurred during a social gathering at a house in the 1400 block of S.W. 13th St.
Koenen said there were dozens of people present at the house and police are working to gather statements from witnesses.
Police ask that anyone who was present to come forward with what they saw.
Anyone with information about the shooting may contact the Topeka Police Criminal Investigation Bureau at 785-368-9400 or Shawnee County Crime Stoppers at 785-234-0007. Anonymous tips may be made online at www.p3tips.com/128.
Visit CJOnline.com throughout Sunday for updates to this report.