THIS IS 19 months ago, and 15-year-old Corey Detwiler and his dad are wrestling in the dining room.
Corey is a freshman wrestler at Pennridge High in Perkasie, Pa., the same place where his father, Andy, wrestled. But this time, they are not wrestling for fun. They're wrestling for a 12-gauge shotgun.
Andy wants to kill his wife, Suzanne. Corey wants to stop him. Andy wrests the gun away, sees it's not loaded and rushes to the garage for shells. As he does, the door gets locked behind him. Everybody hides. Andy fires through the lock and comes wife hunting again.
"Where is she?" he roars.
"She went to the basement!" Corey's older brother, A.J., 17, lies from a closet.
As Andy runs down the basement stairs. A.J. and his mom sprint for the front door, but they're so panicked they can't unlock it. Suzanne runs for the back deck, followed by A.J. Her husband bounds up from the basement and fires through the window, hitting her in the back. A.J. scrambles over the backyard fence, around the house and madly leans on the doorbell.
Corey answers it. A.J. is screaming, "Dad just shot Mom!" Corey has gotten A.J.'s shotgun, loads the two barrels and runs out on the back deck to find his dad leaning over his bloodied mom.
"Get the f—away from my mother!" Corey screams. When his dad turns to face him, Corey fires, staggering his father, who limps for the fence, still holding the shotgun. Corey shoots him in the back, killing him.
Twenty feet away, Suzanne is already gone.
NOW IT'S last Saturday, and Corey is about to wrestle again for Pennridge High. Just before he steps onto the mat, he prays to his parents, "Help me win for you guys."
At 17, he's about the age that his dad was when he gave up wrestling—after his father killed himself. Andy became an ironworker but lived for his sons' matches. Started them at four. Hired private coaches. Put a mat in the basement. A.J. became the top-ranked wrestler in the state at his weight, but Corey rebelled. "I hated the way he pushed me," Corey says. "If I'd lose, he'd say, 'Yo, what's your problem?' I just got sick of it."
After Andy blew out his shoulder while helping to build the Phillies' new ballpark in 2003, he couldn't work, and signs of his bipolar disorder started to show. He didn't beat just his wife; he also beat their oldest child, Brittany, breaking her nose twice. On June 12, 2005, Andy tried and failed to kill himself with car exhaust.
Six mornings later, Corey woke up to a nightmare. This is the first time he's ever spoken publicly about it.
A.J. was shaking him awake: "We gotta go help Mom!" They found their dad holding a knife to her throat. "It wasn't my dad," Corey insists. "It was like the devil was inside him."
When the boys came back with two empty shotguns they'd hidden, their father dropped the knife and went at them. "If it happened now, I know A.J. and I could take him. But he was just so much stronger than us."
Yet when the unthinkable moment came, Corey was strong enough.
Brittany, who was away at college that day, believes only Corey could've done it. "A.J. and my dad were very close," she says. "[A.J.] might have hesitated." Says Corey, who was taught how to shoot by his father, "I think we all believed he would try to kill us all one day. I'd kind of been preparing to shoot my father for a while."
Start to finish it was over in five minutes and later ruled to be a justified shooting. A.J. and Brittany say their little brother is their "hero." "He saved my life," A.J. says. Hearing that, Corey sobs.
Brittany sold that house in suburban Philadelphia, and the Detwiler kids moved in with the family of their cousin, Mike Pulli, who had to build an addition to fit everybody. Corey, once a C student, is getting straight A's. One day a kid sniped, "How's your mom?" and Corey punched him in the face, but mostly he's healing.
He's volunteering at a shelter for battered women and working hard at wrestling in hopes of getting a full scholarship to Boston University like A.J. (wrestling) and Brittany (softball). "Someday," Corey says, "I hope we can all live in three [connecting] houses and all have breakfast in the middle."
Against all odds, he still loves his dad. Pictures of Andy are plastered on his bedroom wall. The photo on his cellphone screen is of his parents. He says he will soon get a heart tattoo: MOM DAD 6/18/05.
"Wherever he is, heaven or hell," Corey says, "I hope he's, like, 'I'm glad my son was able to protect his mother and brother like that. I'm proud of him.'"
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"I think we all believed he would try to kill us all one day," Corey says of his dad, who was bipolar. "I'd kind of been preparing to kill my father for a while."
RIFFS of REILLY
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PETER READ MILLER