No one would have suspected that the life of the Fourth of July party would be arrested for murder only a few months later.
To his friends, Gage Woods is known as the fun and easy to get along with guy who always makes everyone around him laugh. In fact, the funniest moment at the Fourth of July party centered around him. Throughout the night, Woods would periodically disappear. Although he always came back not long after his vanishing acts, the running joke of the night was asking where he was.
One such moment Woods disappeared that night was while everyone else at the party was sitting around the roaring bonfire in my backyard. I briefly left the fire for a while as well to go use the bathroom. I walked over to the camper in my yard we all were hanging out in that night. I opened the bathroom door to find Woods standing there with the light off. Startled, I jumped back nearly a mile. Woods was not phased, however. He casually turned to me and asked, “Where’s the light man?”
I could not stop laughing about that for five minutes straight. Reacting to my laughter, Woods joined in with the chuckling. That short moment with Woods made my night.
The news, that on October 26, 2018, Woods had been arrested for shooting and killing a man in the Waynesburg area, had everyone in complete shock.
“I thought it was one of those hoax articles,” said Quentin Hacker, a friend of Woods, “and I opened it up and saw that it was him that did that. It struck me by surprise. I never saw him getting into something like that or doing something along those lines.”
Woods’ other friends were just as stunned by the news.
“I freaked out a little bit because I had just hung out with him about a half hour before it happened,” said Trent Sunderman, Woods’ best friend for seven years, “Me and him were sitting in my house playing video games for like three hours. I would’ve never guessed in a million years that Gage would be the one to actually kill somebody.”
The Canton Repository reported that the man shot was Jerry Hendershott Jr. of Waynesburg, Ohio. The shooting took place on October 25 around 10 p.m. at Woods’ address. Woods was then arrested around 1 a.m. in the Malvern area of Carroll County.
Although details of the case have not yet been made public, Woods’ friends have speculated as to what may have happened.
“I believe it was a hundred percent self-defense,” said Sunderman.
Aaron Pena, another friend of Woods, also leans toward the shooting being in self-defense.
“I’d like to believe it was self-defense. I don’t think Gage would just do that just because he wanted to. I think Gage is more of the guy that would sit down and talk to you, but I don’t see him shooting somebody unless he was defending himself,” said Pena.
Even with how bewildered Woods’ friends were to find out that he was arrested for murder, their opinions of him as a person have relatively not changed since before this took place.
“I still like Gage. He’s a nice guy,” said Woods’ friend Dustin Duff, “I don’t think he actually meant to kill him. I knew Gage for almost three years now, so I still like him. He’s a good guy.”
Pena made it clear that he intends on reconnecting with Woods no matter how much time he ends up serving.
“Gage is dope. I love Gage. Prison might change people, but, at the core of his being, he’s still gonna be Gage,” said Pena.
Sunderman also remains to have a positive opinion on Woods. He even detailed a funny story involving a time where he and Woods were at a gas station.
“I was sitting at his car, and he walks out the gas station and he gets in these old peoples’ car right next to us. Like right next to us. And there’s this old lady sitting in the passenger seat who just looks over at Gage. You could tell she was pretty scared. Gage looked at her and he said, ‘Well, you’re not Trent,’” said Sunderman as he laughed.
Although Sunderman’s opinions of Gage have not withered, he does have a different outlook on meeting new people.
“It’s changed my view on who you can trust, new people wise. It made me realize you gotta be extremely careful out here cause anything can happen at a split notice,” said Sunderman.
When I first met Woods, I never could have even imagined him harming a fly. I was at Hacker’s graduation party when Woods pulled up in a beat-up Ford blaring music. The hilarity of the situation was amplified by the contrast of Woods’ car and the fancy neighborhood Hacker’s house is located.
Even though I didn’t know much about him, I was excited to meet Woods due to the funny stories Hacker told me from their time at R.G. Drage Career Technical Center. The first notable trait of Woods I noticed was his unique laugh. It’s a contagious chuckle usually funnier than the joke that brought about the fit of laughter to begin with. Instantly, Woods became the life of the party. Even a simple trip to the gas station with him that day was exciting and full of humor.
For these reasons, I was just as in shock as everybody else hearing the news. This was the same man I invited to my house and shared many laughs with from Hacker’s graduation party to my Fourth of July party. It begs the question: How well do you truly know a friend?
To remain objective, I choose to keep my beliefs on whether I think Woods acted in self-defense to myself. That being said, the Woods I know is not the Woods being read about in the news. The news does not tell the full story of who he was, and in many cases, still is to the people who know him.
Although I attempted to reach Woods’ mother and sister to gain insight on their opinions, neither were able to be reached. Woods himself was also unable to be contacted due to visitation restrictions at the Stark County Jail. Even though this article still doesn’t tell the full story, it does add a new perspective usually not seen in crime stories.