"He didn't know what to do," said Cokley, 56, of Monroeville. "I was haunted by the fact that how many other kids have been in this situation and didn't know what to do. A lot of times, kids are the first responders."
Last year, Cokley, a former supervisor in Allegheny County Juvenile Court, teamed up with a trauma nurse and a Pittsburgh paramedic to form When Critical Seconds Count." The educational program teaches middle and high school students first aid skills, including what to do if someone is shot.
"It's a little different than the Boy Scouts," Cokley said. "We teach them to take the shirt off your back and use it to save a life."
The trio show students how to use a T-shirt as a bandage or tourniquet, and what to do until paramedics arrive.
"It's unfortunate we have to prepare our kids like this, but that's just the reality," said Gwen Talkish, a trauma nurse at UPMC Mercy, Uptown. "There's just so much hopelessness and so much lack of knowledge. A lot of them think about life like it's a war zone. We're just trying to help prepare them for the worst."
In 2011, 11 of the 76 homicide victims in Allegheny County were 18 years old or younger. So far this year, 14 homicide victims are in that age group.
"It's their friends who are getting shot," Talkish said. "They're eyewitnesses to these events. They're there before the police, the parents. It's their friends dying, and they have no idea what to do."
Students receive a white T-shirt with the phrase "This T-shirt could save your life" written on it in red letters. Paramedic John Hobdy teaches them how to roll the shirt to form a bandage or tourniquet, and how to apply pressure to wounds.
"Everybody doesn't carry bandages, but a lot of boys wear those big T-shirts," Hobdy said. "Slowing down the bleeding can make a difference."
In four sessions last year in Wilkinsburg schools, the trio shared the life-saving skills with more than 50 students. Talkish, using water balloons to imitate organs, urges kids to use common sense to stay safe. She also shares photos of teens recovering from injuries to make her point.
"If you know someone is involved in something they shouldn't be, don't go party with them," Talkish said. "My point is that in that critical second, you can make the decision to save your life and the life of another person."
The three also taught a CPR certification class to about 15 kids. Siblings Osei Afoxe, 18, and Yusuf Afoxe, 16, of Wilkinsburg, took both courses. Their mother died of a heart attack in 2006.
"I had no control," Osei Afoxe said. "I didn't know what to do when my mother passed on, but now I know what to do and I could help."
Wilkinsburg police Chief Ophelia Coleman and Mayor John Thompson created the Sanctuary Project to get the religious community involved in anti-violence efforts. When Critical Seconds Count is one of the Sanctuary Project programs.
"Anything that can help us as law enforcement, we readily accept that," Coleman said. "We need all the help we can get. We're not everywhere all the time."
Cokley said he'd like to reach about 150 teens this year with the program and expand into other school districts.
"I personally think every kid should know first aid and CPR nowadays with the things that are going on in the community," Cokley said. "What we have to start doing is giving our young people the skills they need to survive in their communities."
Information from: Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, http://pghtrib.com