WILKES-BARRE — Seconds before his life was ended by a bullet early Sunday, Michael “DJ Mo” Onley was doing what people who knew him well said he did best — help people.
It was closing time at Outsiders Bar on South Main Street early Sunday and Onley was finishing up a discussion with Leah Diaz on a benefit they were planning for domestic violence victims. Diaz said there had been a disturbance at the bar earlier and Onley was concerned about her safety and asked to walk her and a friend to their vehicle
“My car was only about 50 feet away from the door, so I told Mo, no, that I’d be OK,” Diaz said. “He squeezed my hand and smiled as he watched me walk to my car.”
Diaz, of Scranton, said she and her friend pulled out of the parking lot that faces Pennsylvania Avenue and beeped her horn as she passed Onley.
“He smiled and waved and then we heard the gunshots,” Diaz said.
Onley, 34, of Madison Street, Wilkes-Barre, was shot moments later as he stood in the patio court area of Outsiders Bar at 12:15 a.m Sunday. City police have not made any arrests or disclosed any motive.
Diaz said she didn’t realize at the time what had happened. She said she thought the shots were fired into the air by security personnel who were trying to get everyone out of the bar because it was closing. She didn’t know her friend of four years — the man she said she never saw in a bad mood — had been shot and killed in the gunfire of an unknown assailant.
“He was a real gentleman,” Diaz said, fighting back tears. “He was a very good man. I feel honored that I spent the last moments of his life with him.”
An autopsy Monday by forensic pathologist Dr. Gary Ross revealed Onley died from a gunshot wound to the head. The manner of death was ruled a homicide by the Luzerne County Coroner’s Office.
Flowers, candles, balloons and notes mark the site where Onley was gunned down.
Vigil being planned
Andre Robertson, a 45-year-old promoter who was close to Onley, and Darlene Duggins-Magdalinski, a Wilkes-Barre activist who has held anti-drug and anti-violence events, are working with Onley’s family to plan a benefit and a vigil/walk in his memory. No details have been confirmed pending funeral arrangements for Onley.
Duggins-Magdalinski said the walk — tentatively called Community Pride and Peace Rally — will probably start at Outsiders and down South Main Street to Public Square for a program featuring DJs, guest speakers and messages of hope.
A benefit concert also is being planned with Onley’s best friend, Bashir Wood, but the site and date have not yet been set. Wood said all proceeds from the benefit will go to help Onley’s family.
Robertson said those who knew Onley are struggling with his death.
“He was about his music,” Robertson said. “And when he was done working, he couldn’t wait to get home to his family. He was not a violent person.”
Duggins-Magdalinski called Onley “an icon” in the Wilkes-Barre area community. “A lot of people looked up to him,” she said. “He was filled with positive energy.”
Robertson said Onley’s reach went beyond Northeastern Pennsylvania and beyond the hip-hop community. “He played bar mitzvahs and Sweet 16 parties,” he said. “He was loved and admired by people of all races.”
Duggins-Magdalinski and Robertson said the community wants the person responsible for Onley’s death to be brought to justice.
“We have to step up as a community to do what we can to stop this violence.”
Wood was best friends with Onley’s brother, Anthony, 30, who was a GAR High School graduate who was shot and killed in February 2012, in Columbia, S.C. Wood attended Coughlin High School and Luzerne County Community College with Onley.
Wood said he hopes the upcoming benefit for Onley will be a celebration of his friend’s life, and he encouraged everyone to come out. “We want to raise money for his family,” he said.
He credited Onley for making WCLH, the Wilkes University radio station, a top spot on the dial for local listeners.
Renee Loftus, WCLH general manager and adjunct professor, met Onley when she arrived at the station 11 years ago. Onley was a 2004 Wilkes University graduate with a bachelor’s degree in communication studies.
“Mike was the heart and soul of WCLH,” Loftus said.
Jeff “Destro” Cashner, who partnered with Onley on WCLH, hosted a tribute show to Onley on his show Tuesday.