The 2015 murder of Yonkers native Michael Nolan was shocking. The 23-year-old southpaw pitcher, who’d been drafted by Major League Baseball’s Oakland Athletics, was hanging out with friends in the Central Avenue Burger King parking lot in Yonkers on September 18, 2015. Approximately 12:30 that morning, a passing car fired six shots at the group, with three bullets striking Nolan, including one in the head. He was rushed to Jacobi Medical Center before being put into a medically induced coma, succumbing to his injuries on October 9.
“When Michael passed away, a huge part of my heart went with him,” said Nolan’s mother, Donna Nolan. “He was not only my son; he was my best friend.” One of Michael’s brothers, Jimmy Jr., said in a testimonial for Everytown for Gun Safety, “I can’t put into words how much I miss him. The pain never goes away.”
The family’s legacy efforts began with establishing the Michael Nolan Scholarship Fund in 2016. The fund furnishes eight student athletes a year (one from each of Yonkers’ public high schools) with financial assistance for higher education. A wide range of sponsors have rallied around the cause, including local restaurants and breweries; professional associations for teachers, plumbers, and carpenters; Yonkers economic giants, like the Cross County Shopping Center and Empire City Casino; and the Yonkers Police Department and Fire Department.
The fund’s flagship event is an annual softball tournament. This year’s tournament consisted of 20 teams, including players from White Plains, Hopewell Junction, and the Bronx. Jimmy says the tournament represents his mission “to try to help more people and to show we all need to come together.” Participants compete in men’s and coed brackets, while spectators enjoy food, music, and raffles. Some of Michael’s organ recipients (he donated six) have traveled to attend, including one all the way from Chicago.
The fund’s next project is a golf tournament and dinner at Dunwoodie Golf Course on September 27, made possible by the Major League Baseball (MLB) Players Alumni Association. Former MLB players will be in attendance that day, embodying the sentiments of Oakland A’s general manager David Forst, who in a statement said that “Michael will always be a member of the A’s family.”
The local community has also backed the cause, with Mercedes-Benz of White Plains sponsoring a two-year lease on a C300 for a golfer who scores a hole-in-one. Danielle Gagliardi of Pepe Auto Group says, “By sponsoring such a special outing, we hope to help generate awareness for the foundation, and we encourage our customers and employees to attend.”
Meanwhile, the Nolans work diligently to prevent others from dying the way Michael did. According to investigators, the shooting stemmed from a violent altercation following a drag race two days earlier. Though Michael was present at the race and the altercation, police were uncertain if he was the intended target of the attack (Jimmy states that Michael did not race or fight). Four suspects, ages 17 to 23, were charged in March of the following year. Jimmy has since become a champion of the Yonkers Gun Tip Hotline, which takes anonymous tips 24/7 and rewards $500 for the successful recovery of an illegal handgun. The year that Jimmy joined the project and began sharing his brother’s story, the program retrieved double the number of guns, he says.
“Community trust is vital, and the story behind this program is part of what earned that trust,” explains Jimmy, who also gives speeches to inmates in prisons, at hospitals, and high schools, and attends memorials for other victims of violence. “A lot of people are misinformed and think turning [a gun] in will get them arrested themselves, but that’s not the purpose. The purpose is to get that gun off the streets and keep it from hurting anyone else.”
Jimmy has also rallied around an anti-illegal-drag-racing law, the first of its kind in Westchester. Yonkers police announced a vehicle-confiscation penalty for drag racing in 2017, and Jimmy seeks to help expand the policy to be at least countywide if not statewide. “You get the usual pushback from people who, at times, don’t understand,” he says of the campaign, “but I’ve had people come to me to say thanks, to say they were scared after my brother’s death, that they wanted change. It’s a scary world, and I don’t want anyone to go through what my family and Michael has gone through.”
Mayor Mike Spano of Yonkers says, “Whether it is through anti-drag-racing legislation or the organ-donor program, Michael continues to make our community better even though he is no longer physically with us. We are all proud to be supporters of the Michael Nolan cause.” In 2018, Spano recognized the impact of Nolan’s loss by dedicating Nolan’s childhood street corner, on Stockbridge Road and Middleboro Drive, to the late athlete and proclaimed May 26, Nolan’s birthday, as Michael Nolan Day. “There’s no better way to keep Michael Nolan’s memory alive than to support the outstanding causes he has inspired,” Spano says.
Donna Nolan echoes that sentiment: “It is important for my family and me to keep Michael’s legacy alive, so people never forget who he was. He was an amazing athlete but also a fun, loving, always smiling, and laughing young man with a heart of gold.”
Editor’s Note: On July 29, Governor Andrew Cuomo signed legislation that directs New York State Police to establish statewide regulations to strengthen existing gun buyback programs and to create new programs for the safe removal of illegal guns.