O'BRIEN: Quincy man killed in shooting accident a friend to many during his short life

Posted: Mar. 28, 2014 6:48 pm Updated: Jun. 20, 2014 9:15 pm

Austin Hermann entered each of their lives at a different point.

To 19-year-old Spencer Wombles, Hermann had been his friend since he was 3 years old. They lived close to each other in the area of 16th and Payson on Quincy's south side.

"He was the best friend anyone could have," Wombles said. "I could trust him more than family. He was just a go-to guy, and I could talk to him about anything. He never judged anyone. He was, by far, the greatest person anyone could have in their life."

Alex Homan first crossed paths with Hermann when the two were paired together in the same fourth-grade class at Baldwin South more than 10 years ago. Homan, 21, said the two immediately hit it off.

"He was always joking around," Homan said. "He was an intelligent guy but was funny at the same time. His personality made it easy for him to talk to people."

Steven McCabe was one of those people that Hermann struck up a conversation with. They first met about nine years ago at a comic book store, Midwest Comics and Games, near 20th and Broadway. They shared a love of comic books and used to do battle in Hero Clix tournaments at the store.

"He was good guy," McCabe, 22, said. "He was pretty laid back. He just like to enjoy himself and live life."

McCabe was with Hermann, who he called his best friend, until about 1 a.m. early Sunday morning. They had been hanging out and playing video games before Hermann took McCabe home.

"I was just tired and want to get sleep," McCabe said.

Of the three guys who called Hermann a close friend, McCabe was the last to see him alive. The 21-year-old Hermann wound up meeting up with another one of his friends after he dropped McCabe off at home.

Tragedy ensued.

According to police, Zachary W. Ballinger, also 21, pointed an AR-15 rifle at Hermann and shot him at a residence owned by Ballinger's family in the 3300 block of South 24th Street. The shooting happened just after 5 a.m. Hermann was pronounced dead from a single gunshot wound at 5:57 a.m.

The incident has left Hermann's friends to wonder how their friend could be gone from them so soon.

"I felt numb," Homan said. "I didn't know what to say or what to do."

All three said they also knew Ballinger, but they aren't as close with him as they were with Hermann. They don't expect that foul play was involved.

"There's nothing that makes me think that Zach would do that to Austin," Homan said. "It had to be an accident."

"It's hard to believe that (Ballinger) did on purpose," Wombles said.

There's little doubt that what happened on the porch, an incident that took one life and changed a number of others, was preventable. Ballinger must now deal with the legal system and ramifications of what happened that night. Free after posting $5,000 bond, his next court date is a preliminary hearing set for April 8.

After hearing the news of his friend's death, McCabe said he didn't think about what might have been had he continued to hang out with Hermann that fateful night.

"That didn't cross my mind," he said. "I was still trying to comprehend that I'll never talk to him again."


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