Daniel Stein
Tree of Life shooting victim Daniel Stein holding his 7-month-old grandson.

Shooting victim, Wesleyan alum remembered for infectious smile, generous spirit, love of family

BUCKHANNON — On the first day of his freshman year at West Virginia Wesleyan College, Dave Kirby remembers impatiently pacing around his new dorm room.

He was eagerly awaiting the arrival of his roommate, but the roommate seemed to be taking his time.

So Kirby decided to wander over to the room next door, where he met Daniel Stein.

“Dan was literally the first person I met on the very first day that I was moving into Wesleyan,” Kirby, a 1969 Wesleyan graduate, recalled. “My roommate was taking forever to get there, so I went next door, and it was Dan Stein, and we just hit it off.”

The two weren’t what you’d call a natural pair, Kirby told My Buckhannon Monday, just two days after 71-year-old Stein, a 1969 graduate of Wesleyan, and 10 other victims were fatally shot in a massacre in a Pittsburgh synagogue that also left six others wounded.

“We were the most unlikely duo you would ever find,” said Kirby, who now works as a talk show host and radio DJ at WWNR in Beckley, West Virginia.

“I was from rural West Virginia, my dad was a coal miner, and I was raised as a Methodist. He lived in a big city and was a man of Jewish faith. We were both just as different as night and day, but we hit it off, and we became close,” he said.

So close, in fact, that the two opted to live together for the next three years at Wesleyan, spending their sophomore and junior years in McCuskey Hall before moving into an off-campus apartment their senior year.

The two laughed together, hitchhiked to Stein’s native Pittsburgh on weekends and even took turns visiting one another’s families despite their disparate backgrounds.

They would part ways when they graduated from Wesleyan in 1969.

And although they stayed in touch for some years, as time passed and life continued to unfold, they drifted apart.

The last time Kirby saw Stein was 22 years ago.

“It was like we hadn’t missed a beat!” Kirby said.

So when Kirby heard about Saturday’s shooting, which occurred just prior to a 10 a.m. baby-naming ceremony at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Squirrel Hill, Kirby had a funny feeling.

He knew his friend was from the Squirrel Hill area and was a faithful man who regularly attended synagogue.

“I knew that with Dan being of the Jewish faith, the possibility existed,” Kirby said, “and for some strange reason, I thought, ‘I think I’ll check and see if they identified any of the victims,’ knowing he was Jewish. But I didn’t dare think that he actually would have been there, and I wasn’t even sure what synagogue he may or may not have attended.”

Kirby’s heart sunk when he saw that his friend, Dan, was the first victim identified.

“It was heart-breaking because through the years, we’d lost touch – it’s just sort of a natural thing,” he said. “But I had major regrets on that day and today that I didn’t stay in touch with Dan and communicate a little more often.”

“I think sometimes, we forget what’s really important in life.”

As the grief swept through Kirby’s mind and body, so did a deep sense of gratitude for the memories he had of the times he’d shared with Stein.

“Dan was the type of guy who enjoyed a good laugh,” he said, “and even though he had a very good sense of humor, he didn’t need to be in the spotlight. He got along very well with everyone.”

But what impressed Kirby the most was the genuine affection and admiration Stein had for his family.

“He was so proud of his parents, he was so proud of everyone in his family. Not only did he love them, he had great respect for them,” Kirby recalled. “It was always an absolute joy for me to be able to visit his family. There was so much love and so much warmth in the room – and it was something very special.”

Kirby, whose radio career got its start at Wesleyan, said he can’t help but wish he’d talked to Stein a bit more over the years.

“But I’m a man of faith, and he was a man of great faith, so I think he and I just might see each other again,” he said. “The one thing I would tell people is that I wish you could have had the opportunity to have known him. He was always laughing, he always enjoyed a joke, he cared about people, he didn’t want to offend anybody. He just kind of enjoyed life.”

Bob Skinner, Wesleyan’s vice president for advancement, said Monday that Stein had majored in Spanish and minored in Latin American studies, receiving his Bachelor of Arts degree from the college in 1969.

Stein was active in intramurals, served as a student assistant for the Spanish department and was a devoted Pittsburgh Pirates and Pittsburgh Steelers fan, Skinner added.

Following his graduation, Stein worked in business and as a substitute teacher. An avid volunteer in his hometown, he stepped up to the plate as a Little League coach and served the local Jewish community however he could.

“At Wesleyan, he was known for his infectious smile and his genuine kindness,” Skinner said.

Like Kirby, Skinner had a sinking feeling when he saw the first few victims’ names.

“When I saw the first few names posted and Dan was one of them, I had a feeling he was a Wesleyan grad,” Skinner said. “Dan was a faithful donor to the college, and I remember his name appearing on giving anniversary letters that I sign. A 1970 grad, Don Green, also reached out to me, and we were able to confirm that this was our Dan.”

Skinner said he’s been able to confirm that Stein was retired and had been happily anticipating living life as a full-time grandpa.

“He adored his grandson,” Skinner said. “The family is just devastated over this senseless tragedy.”

Skinner was the first to share the tragic news of the Wesleyan’s connection to Saturday’s incomprehensible mass shooting on Facebook Sunday evening, praising Stein as a “wonderful human being and loyal alum.”

Margaret Ann Fehrman Thornton, who, like Stein, graduated from Wesleyan in 1969, took to Facebook to highlight the connection between hate speech and hate crime.

Federal prosecutors have filed hate crime charges against the alleged killer, 46-year-old Robert Bowers of Baldwin Borough, according to multiple media outlets.

Thornton wrote in a Sunday evening post, “One of my classmates at West Virginia Wesleyan College was killed in the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting. Dan Stein was a Spanish major, and I remember him as a very nice guy. He was also a husband, father and grandfather.”

“Hate speech sometimes falls on unstable ears, and tragedy is the result,” she added. “This time tragedy struck someone I knew. Next time, it could be someone you know. We must turn away from the hate mongering that has permeated our political and social discourse. When you hear it, turn it off. Don’t buy into it or repost it on social media. Fear, hate and bigotry can kill. Pray for the families who have lost loved ones.”

Bowers is facing 29 charges, including 11 counts of using a firearm to commit murder and numerous counts of two hate crimes: obstruction of the exercise of religious beliefs resulting in death and obstruction of the exercise of religious beliefs resulting in bodily injury to a public safety officer, according to federal officials.

Bowers made anti-Semitic statements during the shooting and harassed people of the Jewish faith online, according to law enforcement officials.

Skinner said Wesleyan plans to have a moment of silence in honor of Stein and the 10 other victims during its regular Chapel service at 11 a.m. Tuesday. Attendees will light candles for the victims, and the Rev. Barry Steiner Ball is scheduled to attend.

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