My 14-year-old son went to high school with a 25-year-old man posing as a 17-year-old student. Which only sounds like a movie you’ve seen before.
My boy and his buddies at Hillcrest High School, which my dad and brother also attended, knew him as Rashun Sidney Richardson, star of the Dallas ISD school’s varsity basketball team — the high-scorer. “By far,” said one of my son’s friends who played on the team with Rashun. The boys say the district’s offensive player of the year was nice enough, well-liked.
Yeah, maybe he seemed a little older than his age. But they just figured he had been held back a time or two. My son and his friends play baseball, besides, and there are guys on the varsity team with thicker beards than I could ever hope to grow. They also didn’t think twice about the fact he sometimes cradled a baby girl on the sidelines of ball games, because, you know, it happens.
They said that they just thought he was, like, a normal kid. That’s how they kept referring to him. As a normal kid. Except, no. He was, in the words of the Dallas ISD superintendent, “a con man” who was arrested Friday and faces charges of tampering with government documents.
According to the district, 17-year-old Rashun Richardson is really 25-year-old Sidney Bouvier Gilstrap-Portley, who graduated from North Mesquite in 2011 — “when I was 7,” my son said Tuesday night over dinner, when he was still insisting it wasn’t that weird. Later Tuesday night, he would freak out, just a bit, when realizing the schoolmate he knew as Rashun was born in November 1992, just a week after New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr.
Gilstrap-Portley, it appears, took advantage of loopholes meant as (federally mandated) acts of compassion for the rootless and the homeless and enrolled at Skyline, then Hillcrest, and pretended to be a teenager again. “He walked our hallways,” said one of my son’s friends, “with us.”
To what end has yet to be determined: Superintendent Michael Hinojosa said Tuesday night it is likely students will be interviewed to find out what Gilstrap-Portley did while in school and with whom he did it. Already the mother of a 14-year-old freshman girl has spoken to the media, including this newspaper, about how the 25-year-old man convinced her “that he was only 17 and that he didn’t see a problem with them dating.”
What began as merely sad, perhaps — a man trying to relive a boy’s glory years, at least according to the current media narrative — became deeply troubling, to that girl’s mother and every other Hillcrest parent now asking, How? To say nothing of the kids with whom he spent time, walking among them, pretending to be one of them. Hinojosa said he was sure there would be counselors assigned to address students’ worries. But he wasn’t sure how this would play out.
“It’s messy,” he said. “It’s under criminal investigation, and they get real nervous when administrators try to intervene in a criminal case. You want to issue a mea cupla and try to inform everyone, knowing this is a big emotional issue for the students. It’s a real fine line. This guy was obviously a con artist. For him to know how to use the Hurricane Harvey thing and the homeless provision, where checking the records is lax, it makes it real complex.”
My son and his buddies spent the evening doing what kids do best: scouring social media for clues. They turned up pictures of days playing developmental semi-semi-pro ball, passed around his Soundcloud page filled with original rap tracks, and instachatted about who suspected what and when. Gilstrap-Portley is also old enough to have a MySpace page.
I called Gilstrap-Portley on Wednesday morning, at his apartment near the Tenison Park Golf Course, and the phone rang and rang. The man listed in court documents as his attorney, Anthony Eiland, was not immediately available.
Hinojosa, whose sons went to Hillcrest, said Tuesday night he’d seen Gilstrap-Portley play ball this season and thought nothing of it. He looked like any other kid — maybe better than most, but nothing made him stand out. Said the super, not trying to be funny, “I know Hillcrest had a better team this year, and now I know why.” He said the whole thing has been “surreal” and was quick to dispel this narrative that Gilstrap-Portley was just trying to relive his glory days.
“No one should look at it that way,” he said. “This is an adult infiltrating high school. People should take this seriously. No one should play it off like that. This is much more than that.”
Which is why parents are troubled, the students a little freaked (and, let’s not kid ourselves, a little amused). Because this was a man pretending to be a kid, playing with kids, dating a 14-year-old. Like we don’t have enough to worry about sending our children to school these days.
“People are emotional right now,” Hinojosa said. “You can’t make this stuff up. How can this really happen? That’s what people are going through. All the stages of trauma. Denial, anger, grief and then wow. People are dealing with it.”
And they’ll keep dealing with it: There were TV and radio trucks lined up at Hillcrest this morning, reporters talking to parents and students about how they feel right now. Meanwhile, my son keeps asking his own questions. One, actually, over and over.
“Why would you go back to high school? Like, why?”