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Life After the Murder Trial: Honoring the Legacy of Billy McCaw

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Players wear the name and number of Billy McCaw, who was murdered in New Brunswick in 2014, during a recent soccer tournament in his honor.
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Billy McCaw Credits: Facebook
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Billy McCaw Credits: Anik Chadha/Facebook
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NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ — They call him Billy the Kid.

They play soccer because it’s his sport. They wear No. 9 because it’s his number. They smile and laugh, even as they compete hard as ever, because it’s his style.

But most of all, they miss him.

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“Something like this embodies what Billy was about,” Dylan Klemuk-San Martin said as feet shuffled across the indoor gym at Rutgers’ Sonny Werblin Recreation Center on a Sunday in late April. “He was about bringing people together. You really felt like you’ve known him your whole life after you met him once.”

He—Billy the Kid—was Billy McCaw. The former Rutgers student left what many consider an irremovable mark on New Brunswick, the university community and those he met. And a couple hundred people had come to Busch Campus on a sunny day last month to honor the young man through Pi Kappa Phi’s fourth annual Billy McCaw Futsal Cup, a 16-team soccer tournament meant to carry forth his name and raise money for his favorite charity.

McCaw’s legacy became a topic of discussion only after he was found murdered on a cold morning in February 2014. He had been bludgeoned and left for dead in a snow-covered backyard on Hartwell Street in New Brunswick. He was 22.

For years, McCaw’s family and friends sat through the criminal investigation, trial and sentencing of his killer. In March, a judge sentenced a New Brunswick resident, Timothy Puskas, who still maintains his innocence, to 40 years in prison for the crime.

With that chapter closed, McCaw’s loved ones saw to it that their lost pal would reclaim the headlines from his murderer on the day of the Futsal Cup. It was, they said, all about Billy the Kid.

“It is a little bit different this year now that we’ve gone through the trial,” Klemuk-San Martin said. “We can turn the page a little, but it’s not something you’re ever really going to get over or completely grieve.”

So who was McCaw the man, as opposed to McCaw the murder victim?

Talk to anyone in the gym that day, and you’d hear roughly the same thing: He was an excellent friend, frat brother, teammate and son. He was both a goofball and a leader who made everyone feel welcome, they said.

Players wear the name and number of Billy McCaw, who was murdered in New Brunswick in 2014, during a recent soccer tournament in his honor.

Bob McCaw should know. The father of Billy, Bob McCaw served as the voice of the family throughout the trial. He spoke with reporters on days when many in the courtroom were too emotional to chat with each other.

But long before that, Bob McCaw spent years coaching his son and his friends, on and off the soccer field. His connection to his son’s world shined brightly at the Futsal Cup, when the Tennessee resident took time to answer each “Hey, Mr. McCaw” with a hello and a thank-you.

In a way, the father had taken on a role that belonged to his son.

“When you send your children away to college, you don’t know their day-to-day existence. You don’t know the lives they’re affecting,” Bob McCaw said. “And through something like this, when you find out the reach that he had just as somebody who was able to make others comfortable—it’s just unbelievable to me.”

McCaw’s reputation gets passed down as lore in Pi Kappa Phi, the frat he helped to found. Each new member hears the grim story of his death, but more often they soak in details of the life he lived, frat brothers said.

Indeed, when a TAPinto New Brunswick reporter asked one of McCaw’s friends what the young man was known for, a Rutgers sophomore chimed in. He had never met McCaw.

“He was the nicest kid around,” Trentino Melone said. “He would give the shirt off his back to you in a heartbeat.”

Word of McCaw’s personality also spread to the prosecution, the police officers who investigated his murder and the jurors who decided upon the guilty verdict. Some attended the Futsal Cup with their families. The New Brunswick Police Department even fielded a team.

Dylan Klemuk-San Martin showcases a tattoo he got in memory of Billy McCaw.

Tournament participants played each game with vigor, blasting soccer balls against the walls, scuffing the floor and flailing for head shots. People in the crowd oohed and aahed after tough plays.

But onlookers and players alike, no matter their team, wore clothing tattooed with “9,” McCaw’s number, or “BTK,” short for Billy the Kid.

McCaw was a player’s teammate, his dad and friends said.

Klemuk-San Martin recalled a recreation soccer game in which he had two goals under his belt. He passed the ball to McCaw, who had an open net. McCaw’s response? “What are you doing, man? You should’ve gone for the hat trick,” a term used when a player scores three goals in one game.

McCaw considered his teammates’ individual victories his own, Bob McCaw said. That attitude produced what the father describes as his “that’s my boy” moment.

When McCaw was around 10 years old, his baseball team was down by one run with the bases loaded. Whether they’d walk away winners or losers came down to one of the team’s struggling hitters. The kid fouled off about five two-strike pitches before ultimately striking out.

“He really battled,” Bob McCaw said. “I’ll never forget seeing Billy, a 10-year-old kid, walking up to his teammate at the end of the game, putting his arm around him and telling him how great an at-bat that was.

“And I’m just like, ‘He gets it,’ ” Bob McCaw added.

Futsal Cup participants played hard in honor of Billy McCaw.

Since the murder, those in Billy McCaw’s social circles have also proven to be top-notch teammates, Bob McCaw said.

The Futsal Cup, for instance, drew 128 players—some of them alumni who knew McCaw—and roughly 200 people this year. They raised thousands of dollars for The Ability Experience, a nonprofit that benefits children with disabilities. Before that, they took time off work, dressed well and spoke about McCaw in court.

“To us, this is a big thing,” Mitch Seigel, a friend of McCaw’s, said. “This is a very meaningful time for all of us.”

It’s also meaningful for Matt McCaw, the teenager whose big brother was ripped from him on that winter night in 2014.

He was 13 at the time of the murder, Bob McCaw said. It took some time for him to open up about the tragedy. As his father sees it, the killing stole from Matt a sense of innocence—a belief that what’s best will happen.

During the Futsal Cup, he hung out with his older brother’s friends. They laughed and talked soccer. Billy McCaw’s buddies had welcomed Matt as their own, Bob McCaw said, an action he considered indescribable.

But if you ask one of the guys, they’d say they got that sense of warmth from their old friend Billy the Kid.

“I make it my mission to live my life the way Billy would,” Klemuk-San Martin said. “There are times when I’ve been down or upset, or I get frustrated with life. But he never had that mindset, and if he did he’d never let you know it.”

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