Francis Lee Savoy shielded his brother from a sexual predator when they were boys. Davane Williams told his girlfriend he believed in her on a bad day, after she didn’t get a job offer. Corey Farmer supported his friend when she came out as a lesbian in high school.
These are some of the people killed this year in D.C., the erstwhile “murder capital,” where homicides have been ticking up again.
“If it all happened in one day, people would flip out,” says Lloyd Wolf, who has been photographing street shrines to homicide victims for more than 15 years. “Instead, it’s just a steady slaughter.”
D.C. recorded 479 homicides in 1991. Over the next two decades, the numbers gradually decreased. By 2012 the District was down to 88 homicides, but then it reversed: 104 people murdered in 2013, 105 in 2014. Last year the number jumped by 38 percent from the previous year. This year, homicides are currently up 5 percent from that number.
At press time, the Metropolitan Police Department has 160 homicides in the books for this year. Nearly 70 of them were under 26 years old.
“Over the years it’s been, ‘Oh look, it’s the lowest number it’s been in a generation,’ and there was a celebratory wrapping around the homicide number,” says David Bowers, founder of NO MURDERS DC, a movement to end murder in D.C. “But there’s a difference between progress and ‘mission accomplished.’ What about those 88 that were still killed that year? Let’s go tell their parents that we’re celebrating. You have to have a fundamental view that one is too many.”
“I try to let them know that they are worthy of living,” says Jay Brown, a community advocate and activist who has spent his career working in social services and visits families when he hears of a homicide. He estimates he has attended 30 funerals this year, and he says there is a different story behind each killing. “My approach recently has been, when it comes to juveniles, I like to crown them … They don’t value themselves too much. They feel like they’re a burden on society. And that’s why I say, ‘No, you’re a king, you’re a queen. We need you. You need to stay alive.’”
For the past four months, City Paper has talked to the loved ones of this year’s homicide victims. We spoke with teachers, parents, siblings, coworkers, aunts, uncles, grandparents, classmates, childhood friends, and pastors. We asked them to tell us about the person they lost: What talents and passions did they bring into the world? Who and what did they love? What were their plans in life?
We did not ask if the person had done something wrong or committed a crime. Wolf tells a story that explains why. He was photographing shrines one afternoon when a man approached him and introduced himself as the brother of the victim, and they started talking. “He was basically saying that his brother was no sweetheart, but no one deserves this,” says Wolf.
Some of these victims were the walking definition of “sweetheart,” and others may not have been. They all came into the world with gifts to offer their communities. Draw no conclusions based on whether someone has a short write-up, a long one, or none at all. People grieve differently. We may have reached someone who couldn’t or wouldn’t speak, or we may not have reached the right person.
The result is this collection of remembrances for more than 40 people who died by homicide in D.C. this year. If your loved one isn’t on this list but you want them included, just contact City Paper. We will update this through the end of the year. —Alexa Mills
Joseph Burgess, 60
Found dead in a fire on the 3300 block of Ely Place SE on Jan. 5
To his daughter, Latricia Burgess, Joseph Burgess was her everything. “He was my backbone,” she says.
He was a strong, intelligent, Christian man whose intentions were always about “helping thy neighbor as thyself,” says Latricia, quoting from Matthew 22:39. He would never let a brother sit on the street cold and hungry while he had a warm house to sleep in. “I was always worried about him,” says Latricia, remarking on how dangerous it was to see her father invite strangers into their home. But he was never worried.
Joseph took it upon himself to teach his kids respect and kindness. Constantly pushing his children to attend college, Joseph always put faith and energy into ensuring his family had a good future planned for themselves.
His love was occasionally a tough love, but it was always out of the goodness of his heart, she says. Whether he was asking them to get through college or get a job, Joseph wanted his children to succeed. “[He’d say], ‘Get yourself together,” says his daughter. He didn’t say it out of spite or hate, but out of affection.
Latricia and her siblings lost their mother several years back; their father’s death was a major blow. “With my mom, we got closure … The man who murdered my father is still out there,” she says. Latricia urges the city to keep looking for the killer, because to her, a cold case is the equivalent of the city giving up on her father.
“It felt like I lost my backbone,” says Latricia. “A piece of me.” —Ayomi Wolff
Regina Bowman, 50
Found dead in a fire on the 3300 block of Ely Place SE on Jan. 5
“Regina loved to dance,” says her mother, Saundra Bowman. “Whenever she and her friends went out [to karaoke], Regina would always be up front, singing.” If any opportunity to sing or dance presented itself, she would rise to the occasion, eager to let her talent be seen and shared.
“I think the one thing I’ll miss most about my sister,” says Kyra Harvey, “is her laugh and her smile. She was never shy of giving a hug or a kiss on the cheek.”
Despite working tirelessly as a mother of three, it seemed Regina always had the energy to be of aid to someone else. “She just wanted to help others,” says Saundra. “She cared.” She was “someone who wanted to know who supported her and in turn who she could support,” says Kyra
While she wasn’t looking after her own children, Regina spent hours of her time volunteering at local schools. “People adored her,” says Saundra.
A makeshift shrine of flowers, teddy bears, candles, and books appeared outside the house where she died along with Joseph Burgess.
“This was her mantra,” recited Kyra: “Be purposeful in life, Regina, never fear success, and always be number one.” —Ayomi Wolff
Vongell Lugo, 36
Stabbed on the 2800 block of Wisconsin Avenue NW on Jan. 6
Vongell was one of those people who could brighten a room just by entering. “He was like a light,” says Sydney Vranna, his close friend and roommate of six years. She set up a GoFundMe page on behalf of his mother, Victoria Lugo, to help her cover the funeral expenses.
His warm personality made meeting new people easy for him. Sydney says he made a perfect first impression––the kind that lasted. It seemed no matter where he went, he could always make new friends or fit in immediately.
“He was huge Redskins fan,” laughs Sydney. Whenever a football game would come on, Vongell would be front and center, decked in maroon and yellow gear. Whenever the team made a touchdown, shouts of joy would echo throughout their home, his excitement both constant and infectious even long after the ball had passed through the endzone.
He also found joy in cooking. He was, however, a “messy cook.” But the payoff for a half-destroyed kitchen after a long night of cooking was always a delicious meal.
Vongell may have been the sweetest, kindest friend, but he was not one to sugarcoat. He would critique the outfits of his friends, sometimes with simple “no,” and insist they go back and try again. “Sometimes he would tell me just to flat out change,” says Vranna. But he handed out critiques because he wanted to make sure his friends looked their best, knowing that if they were happy, he was happy.
“This is an especially hard time” said Vranna in October. “Autumn was his favorite season.” Vongell loved the fall fashions, the food, and especially how the green leaves of summer transformed into the fiery yellows and oranges of autumn. —Ayomi Wolff
Damon Dukes, 25
Shot on the 200 Block of V Street NW on Jan. 6
“He was always happy,” says Cattena Dukes, Damon’s mother.
When he was a teenager, he was constantly getting himself in trouble. Then suddenly, as soon as he turned 18, he snapped out of it. “I’m [going to] put myself in school to get my GED,” he told his mother. And that is exactly what Damon did. He got his GED followed by his Commercial Driving License and got a job driving for Big Bus Tours. His mother remembers he drove one of the busses during the parade after the Capitals won the Stanley Cup.
Cattena recalls seeing so many faces of Damon’s Big Bus co-workers at his funeral, all mourning the loss of a dear friend.
She says her son was a “family-oriented man,” married with two kids who were his world. His mother remembers how he would try to call her every day if he could, and on the days he wasn’t working, he would stop by at her house. “He would pop over at aunts’ houses [and] distant cousins’ houses,” says Cattena. Damon knew their extended family better than she did, she says, and he enjoyed their company and presence greatly. —Ayomi Wolff
Zyair Bradley, 20
Shot on the unit block of Forrester Street SW on Jan. 13
India Bradley has had three dreams about her firstborn child since he died in January.
In the first dream, she and her husband and her three other kids were in a new house. And she kept saying, “Where is Zyair?” Then he walked through the door, but he didn’t speak. India hugged him and asked if he was all right. “He just looked at me. I said, ‘You’re dead, ain’t you baby? You’re in Heaven.’” He shook his head yes. She asked if he knew what happened to him, and who did it. He shook his head yes. “And then all of a sudden I hugged him real real tight, I could feel the tears running down my face. And when I went to pull back and look at him again, he was dead in my arms,” she says. “His face glowed. It was a bright light, like beautiful. And then he turned into like little flitters, just flittering on off into the sky.”
The second dream came about two months later. In this dream, he was dancing and laughing. She asked him what was going on. “He said, ‘Ma, I’m OK. I’m having a ball. I’m good.’ And I’m like, ‘You are, baby?’ And he was like, ‘Yep, everything will be OK.’” She told him she wanted to be with him. “He said, ‘You will, but it ain’t time yet. But what I need you to do is stop worrying.’” She promised her son she’d try. The next day, she says, everything went perfect for her.
In the third dream she was outside, and some guys started shooting and chasing people. She ran to an abandoned house and sat on the front steps, and a guy in a black hoodie came and sat beside her and tried to comfort her. But she didn’t know him so she pulled back his hood, and then saw it was Zyair. He told her he would always protect her, and together they ran through a yard and down a street to the house where India grew up. Her whole family was inside having a party, “even people who have passed, like my dad,” she says. She tried to bring him in the house, but he wouldn’t go. “He said, ‘Mom, I’m always going to be there, trust me, but you’re safe now. Go on in the house.’” So she did.
Zyair was popular in school, had a gift for fixing electronics, and was a brilliant dancer. “He used to do tricks like a magician with his hat, make the hat go up in the air, come back down with no string on it,” she says. He insisted he made the best hamburger in the world, and he called it the Scrumptious Burger. He worked at the Michaels in Friendship Heights. He was in the process of building a motorcycle.
He loved his two little sisters and his baby brother, and a video on his Instagram shows the two brothers giggling and practicing a cooing sound as Zyair kisses the baby on his forehead.
India says that so many people showed up to his candlelight vigil, it looked like a block party. —Alexa Mills
Alexis Washington, 23
Shot on the unit block of Forrester Street SW on Jan. 13
Alexis Washington was, as her uncle called her, a Cadillac. “She exuded style, charisma, grace, and charm … like a Cadillac,” says Sean Mack.
With a laugh that could fill a room and a sense of humor that was loud, “funny loud,” says Sean, Alexis was the kind of young woman people wanted to be around, to associate with.
Alexis was loved in and by her community. All those around her enjoyed her good company. “It was such a shock,” says Sean. “It left a hole in our community.” He has since been advocating for justice for his niece, calling for action from the city and Mayor Muriel Bowser.
He talks about how his niece was committed to helping others, often delivering groceries to those who couldn’t drive or had health conditions preventing them from leaving their homes. When she died she was attending classes toward her chosen career path: “She was working hard to become an EMT,” says Sean.
On the side, Alexis dabbled in art, some of which was displayed at her funeral.
Although her dream was to become an EMT and be of service to her community, as a single mom, the thing she cared about above all else was the well-being, life, and future of her toddler son. To her, he mattered the most. “He was paramount,” states Sean firmly. He was her world. —Ayomi Wolff
Davane Williams, 22
Shot on the 1200 block of North Capitol Street NW on Jan. 15
Davane Williams was one of the most popular kids at YouthBuild Public Charter School. His girlfriend Kiyana remembers how he found a way to connect with everybody there. Kids who couldn’t speak much English yet? “They used to smile and laugh and give him a high five every time they saw him,” she says. One teacher, Rashid Darden, came to think of Davane as his “school son.” He photographed his graduation so that Davane would always have a record of the big day.
Davane came back to school after graduation, painting the doors and classrooms and gardening out front. “This was a kid that really believed in what he was doing in terms of not just being a student, but being part of the culture of the school and part of giving back to the school,” says Darden. “He was, to me, the epitome of black boy joy.”
Both Kiyana and Darden say that Davane and his mother loved each other very much.
Kiyana deeply misses Davane. In her memory bank is this one time she applied for a job, but got a rejection. “I kind of like broke down, and I started feeling like everything was my fault,” she says. “And he was there to just say, ‘It’s not you.’ He told me: ‘It’s not your fault. You can get jobs. You’re intelligent enough, you got this.’”
Kiyana was still in high school when Davane died, but she has since finished. And she tacked up her graduation photo right next to his. —Alexa Mills
Travis Deyvon Ruth, 21
Shot on the 2700 block of Jasper Street SE on Jan. 18
Travis Deyvon Ruth started going to church his senior year of high school. He expressed curiosity about Christianity one day after school while he was catching up on classwork.
“How do you know there is a God?” Travis asked his teacher Ronald Edmonds.
Edmonds, who’s an officer in the Baptist church, more than entertained the question. They had a thought-provoking conversation about who they thought God was, and their own lives. After that, Travis asked Edmonds if he could go with him to church on Sundays.
“I would pick him up on the way to church. He would come with me … We would eat breakfast after,” Edmonds says. “He graduated in summer school—that’s why I knew he was a fighter.”
When he graduated high school, Travis stopped going to church as often. But eventually, when things were right with him and he got a stable job, he returned.
“The end of December last year, he came to join the church again to be baptized. I knew something was different when he walked in to join the church. He walked with confidence this time,” says Edmonds. “He caught the bus Sunday morning to church.”
Travis’ strength was undeniable, his teachers say. He and his family moved to D.C. after surviving Hurricane Katrina. “He was going to go out into the world and do good,” says his English teacher, Kassandra Soter. Travis intended to return to Louisiana one day to start an auto shop and raise his own family. —Amanda Michelle Gomez
Corey Farmer, 19
Shot on the 400 block of 37th Place SE on Feb. 19
“Corey was the sweetest, most protective boy I ever met,” says Jenari Mitchell, his friend and former high school classmate. “To me. To staff members. To his other friends.”
Jenari came out as a lesbian during high school, and while that wasn’t always the easiest experience, Corey was always there to support her, without fail. “He took the initiative to make everyone smile everyday,” she says. “Whenever I was going through something, Corey was always there to talk, or to just make me laugh. Or he’d just smile until I smiled.”
“He looked out for me like a big brother,” says Jade Polly, who became friends with Corey through his older brother Ryan. “I’d be like, ‘You don’t have to look out for me—I’m older than you!’” she remembers with a laugh. “But he was just that loving, selfless person. He was a person who always checked in on everybody.”
Corey was extremely driven, Jade says, and planned to go back to school and become an entrepreneur. But in the meantime, “he was focused on working,” she explains.
“Focused on making sure his mom was taken care of. It really wasn’t asked of him—it was just what he wanted to do.”
While he was stone-cold serious about taking care of his loved ones, Corey’s joy could light up a room. He was a great dancer, Jenari says, and after his death, “there were a lot of videos of him dancing in different places.” Prom night was the crown jewel. “He really came out of his shell at prom,” she remembers. “Corey took over the dance floor. Usually, boys approach girls to dance, but girls were coming up to him. He was just in his element.” —Joshua Kaplan
David Elijah Brandon, 30
Shot on the 4300 block of Georgia Avenue NW on Feb. 24
David Brandon was a man of many passions, but all that was secondary to his daughter, Braelyn. “He was just completely devoted to that little girl,” says Melanie Carter, David’s mother. “When he was with Braelyn, it was like he was 6 all over again. He would just play. Cooking with her. Reading stories to her. He was just starting to teach her the alphabet.” One Christmas, she remembers, he was frantic to get her an electric car. He managed to find one, and Braelyn loved the present, so David would trudge behind her in the freezing cold, as she drove down the sidewalk, beaming.
Growing up, “he was the child in class that talked too much. He always was in trouble for talking too much,” Melanie remembers with a laugh. “He just liked connecting with people.” And he never lost that spark. After he passed away, the mother of one of his friends told Melanie how one time, David turned someone out of her house for not acting right. “If someone was trying to hurt you, he wasn’t just going to sit around and do nothing,” she says. “He was very loyal.”
David loved music, and spent a lot of his free time laying down tracks in his friend’s basement studio. And “if there was something he felt strongly about, he’d put his heart into it,” Melanie says. One of those passion projects was the streetwear brand Yagadah—as in “Yagadah do it”—which he co-founded with his friend Delonta. Yagadah combined fashion with motivational messaging directed at young people. “I know he wanted his brand to be positive and to encourage kids to do what they needed to do to be successful,” Melanie explains. “He was really, really determined to be a positive force in the world.”
She’s extremely proud of the dogged way he pursued that dream. “I always told my sons, ‘You can never give up,’” she remembers. “And he didn’t. David never gave up.” —Joshua Kaplan
Javed Bhutto, 64
Shot on the 2600 block of Wade Road SE on March 1
In the picture, Nafisa Hoodbhoy and Javed Bhutto are radiant. They’re wearing pale pastels and unreserved smiles, sitting among friends in Karachi, Pakistan. It was 1993 and they were recently married. “We were very much in love,” she says.
When they met, Nafisa was a journalist covering a murder. The victim of that murder was Javed’s sister. They sought justice for the young woman, and in the process, they fell in love.
They moved to the U.S. nearly 20 years ago to try their luck here. As a teacher and reporter they seemed to get poorer, no matter how hard they worked in Pakistan—but they always planned to return one day.
Nafisa says her husband was “probably the most gentle human being I’ve ever seen.” Any time he had some money, he would send it back home to the person most in need.
The walls of their home in D.C. held hundreds of books on philosophy and history. Javed had earned his PhD in philosophy, taught, and was most proud of his work as a philosopher.
When he died, he was planning a trip to Pakistan. “He told me, ‘I’d like to stay there for two months because I have so many friends that I want to see.’”
Instead she went back alone, and found those friends and hundreds more gathered at the airport. “He was so modest, he would never project himself,” she says. “So what really baffled me is how the day after this happened, suddenly it just burst out in the open about who he was as a person. Everybody had stories about him. And there’s this collective love that I’ve seen coming out of people that’s really overwhelmed me.”
Now Nafisa is back in the U.S., seeking justice—on her own this time.
“I miss him so dearly,” she says. “I cannot tell you.” —Alexa Mills
Melvin Edward Quick Sr., 33
Involved in a fight on the 1800 block of Q Street SE, April 2
Melvin Edward Quick Sr. was the love of Kelly Eddings’ life. He was her Pokémon.
“We thought we were grown, but we would watch cartoons on Saturday mornings,” says Kelly.
Pokémon was her favorite show. She’d watch it with Melvin, who would imitate the characters’ voices for her. She would call him “Pokémon” and he even got the show’s name tattooed on himself.
“I miss him every day—most days it kind of feels surreal,” she says. “We had some ups and downs… We have always been able to look out for one another. He knew I’d always be there, and vice versa.”
She misses him on days like her birthday, Dec. 18. She celebrated her 32nd birthday with him, and spent the last two years in a relationship with him and before that it was off and on. Kelly and Melvin first met 19 years ago as teenagers when she moved to Southeast from Northwest. His smile and charm first attracted her to him.
“I just always want her to remember his smile,” says Kelly of their 16-year-old daughter. Melvin was especially close to her. They’d play video games until three o’clock in the morning sometimes, and take late-night runs to the store for snacks. To be clear, Melvin loved all his five children.
“He would carry all five of them—on his back, his shoulders … just to get them where they needed to be,” says Kelly. “He was really big on family no matter the situation. He believed family was all he really had.”
His dreams involved his kids. He talked about getting an ice cream truck for them and worked to be a better person for them.
“I’m even more honored that he left us with his lasting legacy, his son,” says Kelly. She’s looking to rename her 8-month-old, Kaiden Marquis Quick, after Melvin next year. —Amanda Michelle Gomez
Jobe McDowney, 23
Shot on the 4900 block of Nash Street NE on April 4
“Jobe had a loving heart, and he cared about people,” says his older cousin Dion McDowney. “He worked hard. He was a quick learner.” Jobe was always oriented toward helping others, Dion explains. A churchgoer who loved his young son, he liked to spend his free time “doing volunteer work. He was the sort of guy who’d give you the shirt right off his back.”
Jobe was a fun-loving young man, “who liked to listen to music and hang out, just like normal kids his age. Play video games and stuff,” Dion says. But in his cousin’s eyes, Jobe stood out for his remarkable work ethic, and for his dedication to making himself the best man he could be. “Just working, working hard. Trying to become somebody,” Dion says. “Get himself a trade. He would hold two or three jobs at one time,” including working for Dion’s home remodeling company. Sometimes Dion had to insist on paying him, because Jobe wanted to chip in for free when Dion would call him asking for last-minute help with a job. “He was working with me up until his last day. If that job hadn’t gotten cancelled, he’d probably still be here,” Dion says. “He was a young man, just trying find his route through life. And I knew he was on the right path.” —Joshua Kaplan
Desimon Richardson, 21
Shot on the 4900 block of Nash Street NE on April 4
Pamela Richardson remains in awe of how much her son Desimon loved his family and friends. “He was a role model to most of his younger cousins,” Pamela says, pointing out that few 21-year-olds would take the time to care for an autisic family member the way Desimon did for her nephew. “He would pick him up and take him places to get him out of the house, or visit him and play video games,” she recalls.
Desimon was also the cousin who showed up at all of the football games and graduations. He spent time with his baby nephew. He was a support system for everyone he held close.
Desimon was also very talented, Pamela says. He loved working on computers and playing video games, and even tried creating some games of his own. An up-and-coming rapper, Desimon’s biggest dream was making it in the music industry. “It came from out of nowhere, but then when I saw a video and then others afterwards, and I was like, ‘OK, he’s very interested and getting involved with this.’ So my family and I just started supporting him because every time he showed us a video, he was very excited about it.”
Desimon hoped his music would “take his family far away from here—that was the direction he was going,” Pamela says. His goal was for everyone to be “better than what we are now.” —Christina Sturdivant Sani
Chester Belfield, 46
Stabbed on the 1000 block of Southern Avenue SE on April 13
Though he came from a large family, Chester Belfield managed to stand out. The 46-year-old was outgoing, very outspoken, and intelligent, recalls his sister, Camille Belfield. “He was the life of my mother’s eight kids,” she says. “He loved his wife—he loved his family.”
Chester and Camille, the baby boy and baby girl of the family, had a special bond. “We were Michael Jackson and Janet Jackson as brothers and sisters,” Camille says, explaining how much her brother loved to sing and dance. A few years ago, the family threw a birthday celebration for Chester’s best friend. Camille remembers her brother as the life of the party, dancing with one of their older sisters. “He had his hands in the air and he just kept on saying, ‘We want muffin! Where is muffin?’” calling out to Camille by her nickname. “He was awesome,” she says. “He was my world.”
Chester had many stories to tell and dreamed of becoming an author. He had written a biographical book called Drastic Measures and was working to get it published before he passed away. “His death was life-changing—not only for me, but for my family as a whole,” says Camille, whose family is working to get Chester’s book on shelves as they continue to grieve. “We’re just trying to keep the faith, pray every day and—as time goes by—hope it gets better.” —Christina Sturdivant Sani
Breon Austin, 16
Shot on the 700 block of Princeton Place NW on April 19
High school student Keymiah Armstrong wrote to City Paper about her friend, Breon Austin:
It’s been 8 months, more than half of a year, since Breon Austin left us. He was shot and killed on April 19, in a place where he should’ve felt safe. Bre was full of ambition and cared for others. His mother remembers him as warm-hearted, artistic, and fiercely protective. Though Bre was young, he was a man at heart, and in his mind.
In 2018, he took it upon himself to create his own clothing brand, Bagshxt. I was so excited when he first began to sell his hoodies and hand-painted jeans to people in the city. Breon was quite innovative and motivated. All he ever wanted to do was to showcase his creativity and talent to the world. He was nowhere near finished, this was just the beginning for him.
He crosses my mind every day. I try to keep myself busy, but, even if I drift off for just a couple of seconds, there he is. Every time I saw Breon, I would make sure he was OK. I’d tell him, “I care about you, man,” and he’d just smile and tell me that he was good, and that he cared about me too.
Your absence has taken a toll on many lives, Bre. I just hope you’re OK. I miss you, more than you’ll ever know. Breon, I know you’re around, you just aren’t physically here. You should be here Bre, come on, you know that. #BreonAustinForever
Eberson Guerra-Sanchez, 16
Bludgeoned with a sharp object on the 5200 block of Canal Road NW on April 27
Katie Miller first met Eberson Guerra-Sanchez in September 2017, when he became a student in her English as a second language class at Gov. Thomas Johnson High School in Frederick, Maryland. At first, she says, Eberson was very reserved: extremely shy, always kind, quiet, and polite. It was clear to her, however, that Eberson was dealing with a lot outside of the classroom—she suspected the problem might be gang-related—and because of that, he often treated school like an afterthought. So when Miller was transferred to Frederick’s Tuscarora High at the end of the school year, she was worried about the kid she was leaving behind.
But then, to Miller’s surprise, Eberson transferred to Tuscarora, too. And in that new environment, he began to thrive. “He had a place where he felt safe,” she says. “He started to relax and sit with the other kids.” Suddenly, he was a dedicated, hard-working student, “just laser-focused,” she says, and he quickly made a tight-knit group of friends. “They were just goofy teenage boys,” Miller explains—always joking around, and hanging out at the gym after school. She remembers how happy he finally seemed: “This 16-year old kid that was always, always smiling.” And of course, she was thrilled. “It was beautiful. He was just blossoming,” she emphasizes. “He was doing so, so well.”
On the Friday Eberson went missing, the two of them spoke for the final time. He came up to Miller to show her his report card. “Miss, are these good?” he asked her. “Are these grades good?”
“These are excellent,” she told him. “They show that you’re working hard and you’re learning. You should be really proud of yourself.” —Joshua Kaplan
Jamal Mikal Ferrell, 40
Stabbed on the 700 Block of 14th Street SE on April 28
Jamal Mikal Ferrell landed in D.C. more than a decade ago. He was in the process of making his way from North Carolina to New York, but something kept him here.
“I guess because he enjoyed what he saw and found,” says his friend of 13 years, Lafayette Smith. “He liked the city.”
One of the things that made him happy was his job as a cook at the Holiday Inn. He’d boast to Smith about how everybody loved his waffles. Jamal was also responsible for the cold bar, like salads and fruits.
“Everybody said he was a nice person. He was giving,” says Smith. “He would give his last dime if need be. He always said he’ll get more from where that came from.”
Jamal’s family stayed in North Carolina. But he had his chosen family here in D.C., made up of friends he kept close, including Smith. “He shared a lot with me… he was very kind. He was a generous young man.”
Jamal was the type of man who took life one day at a time. He had dreams—he wanted to become a father. But that never happened.
“I’m sorry his life was cut short at such an early age,” says Smith.—Amanda Michelle Gomez
Saoun Coplins, 18
Shot on the 3000 block of Stanton Road SE on May 4
Ireg found out about her friend Saoun’s death on Instagram. “Immediately it was like, ‘Wait, what?’” she says. “I got really confused.”
They’d lived across the street from one another as kids. They went to the same elementary school. They shared the same birthday, she says, and both had single black mothers. Ireg remembers Saoun for being “just a bit more on the positive side,” and for getting up in front of the class and doing a hilarious impression of their teacher.
One of his high school teachers at YouthBuild Public Charter School, Eugenia Reyes, saw that same sense of humor in Saoun—although she was likely never the subject of his jokes. She says he was always making people laugh in her class. She remembers one time, after months of pushing him to get a government ID, he showed up in her classroom empty handed on the day he’d promised to deliver. She was dismayed and took him to task. But then he produced the ID. “He was just messing with me,” she laughs.
Reyes says Saoun wanted to be a firefighter, and he was advanced in reading.
Ireg remembers that as a child, Saoun “was a lot better at math than anyone expected him to be.” The teachers would divide the kids up into groups based on their abilities, and they were always together in the advanced group. They lost touch for a little while, but became friends again at YouthBuild, where they were in a construction program.
“I just know he was trying really hard when we were in school together at YouthBuild,” she says. “Like he really wanted to make something of himself.”
Saoun and Ireg used to get lunch together, along with another student, Davane Williams. But Davane died in January, Saoun in May. “It was almost like reopening an old scar and then also adding a new one,” says Ireg. —Alexa Mills
Berner Johnson, 48
Assaulted on the 100 block of K Street SE on May 15
Diane Johnson wrote to City Paper about her husband, Bud:
Bud was a loving father and devoted husband. He was a loyal friend, who was generous, thoughtful, and kind. He was a man who took pride in working hard and always giving his best. He dedicated 30 years to working for the United States Senate. Bud was very passionate about the things he believed in, and he cared deeply for the people in his life. He never thought twice about helping coach his children’s sports teams (specifically baseball and basketball). Bud was a very patient coach who understood that when kids were acting out, they needed more structure and he made sure they got that under his watch.
I’ve known Bud since 1992, and we were married in 1996. Bud loved his family and spending time with his kids, whether it be attending their sporting events, hanging out cheering on D.C. teams, or playing wiffle ball with them. Bud enjoyed finding new places to take walks with our dog and me, watching movies on the weekends, and playing softball. Together, Bud and I were looking forward to retiring, and his dream was to find a smaller city close to the water for us to grow old together.
Maurice Scott, 15
Shot on the 3500 block of Wheeler Road SE on May 26
On weekends and autumn afternoons after school, you could always find Maurice Scott “outside with his friends. On the basketball court. Playing football,” says his twin sister, Melissa. Maurice called her Missy; she calls him Mo. “He wanted to go to the NBA,” Missy says with a laugh. She thinks he would’ve made it. But if pro ball didn’t work out, she says, “he wanted to study mechanical engineering.” “He was very good at math,” Missy explains. “I’d go to his math classes and ask him for help with my homework.”
From walking her through algebra to cleaning Missy’s room, Maurice was always there to lend his sister his hand. “We’d take care of each other,” she says. “My problem was his problem. His problem was mine.” Maurice was “smiling, loving, playful, jokeful.” Missy loved to go to the pool with her brother, where they’d goof around, “dunking each other, pushing each other in the water.” He had a great sense of humor—“he had nicknames for everyone,” she says—and was a loving and devoted brother and friend.
Lauren Catalano, Maurice’s former principal at Somerset Prep, certainly remembers how talented and hard-working of an athlete Maurice was. But even more impressive was how he carried himself on and off the court. At one practice, Lauren remembers, “one of the players was just really lagging, and Maurice made sure to stay side-by-side with that player and encourage him.” She always knew Maurice to be unfailingly kind, but “just in that moment, [he] struck me as so mature and insightful … It just further illustrated how much he had a deep care for people, and wanted to make sure he was able to support his friends.”
His friends supported him too—they were inseparable. “They were always outside together, knocking on each other’s doors in the morning,” Missy remembers. “See what’s new for today.” —Joshua Kaplan
Lola Gulomova, 45
Shot on the 4300 Block of Windom Place NW on June 7
Lola Gulomova aspired to be a U.S. Ambassador.
“We had talked a couple of times about it … here are some of the things you have to do,” says Sarah Kemp, who worked with her at the Department of Commerce. “She was just like a spark of energy and joy, and constantly had a huge smile on her face.”
Born in Tajikistan, Gulomova was a foreign commercial service officer. Throughout her life, she also worked at NASA and the United Methodist Committee on Relief, aiding Hurricane Katrina survivors.
She was ambitious, but also appreciated life outside of work, her colleagues say.
Gulomova had a knack for languages, and liked to explore exotic cuisines when traveling abroad. She also had two daughters whom she adored. She would take her girls on vacations, looking to explore different cultures with them.
“Her girls were her life,” says Matt Edwards, her old boss.
“Some people have a hard line between work and family and friends. But I think she enjoyed bringing people together and getting to know her colleagues—not just Americans, but local Chinese staff,” says Jim Rigassio, a colleague who served with Gulomova in Guangzhou, China.
Kemp adds, “She was always the first person to say ‘Stop working, let’s go get a drink—you can’t be working all the time.’”
She had this saying—“widening the circle”—that Rigassio recalls anytime he faces an obstacle at work. Gulomova always welcomed more perspectives during turbulent times.
“This was an immigrant who lived the American dream, who contributed to our national objectives—in this case commercial objectives. And because you can easily obtain a gun, to settle some dispute, you end up with losing that bright light,” says Rigassio. —Amanda Michelle Gomez
George Hendrix, 22
Shot on the 300 block of K Street SE on June 22
History was George Hendrix’s favorite class at YouthBuild Public Charter School. Eugenia Reyes was his teacher. She says he was full of questions and he would enrich the class with his participation. “And he would relate it—everything that we read—he would always relate it, bring it back to, ‘Oh, this is what happens now in D.C., this is what happens within my neighborhood.’” Whether she was teaching about the work of the founding fathers or the D.C. Council, George could bring the information to present-day life.
“I really liked his personality,” says Reyes. He would come to her class when she was teaching ESL and speak with those students. “He would always encourage them to speak English, even if they didn’t speak it well or pronounced words wrong,” she says. “He was always giving courage to them.”
Every once in a while, on a bad day, he’d ask to just hang out in her room. He was in and out of school, starting and stopping and starting again. He was always very well dressed, and she says he wanted to start his own business. “He would draw shoes, and he would color different patterns on the shoes,” she says. “And he was always checking on new brands, new styles in shoes and also clothes.”
She misses him, and the two other YouthBuild students she lost to gun violence this year.
“He was very popular. George was very popular,” says Reyes. “Everyone knew him because he made friends with everyone.” —Alexa Mills
Anfernee Vernon Walker, 22
Shot on the 3900 block of Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue SW on July 8
Anfernee Vernon Walker was Nicole Harper’s second child. “When he was small he was so lovable,” she says. “People loved him. They asked me, could they have him?” Her happy baby was “always smiling, always smiling. It was never a dull moment with Anfernee, never.”
As an adult, she says, “He had a good heart. And he helped anybody out that he could. He was a family person, he loved his family. He loved his kids.”
He had two little ones, and he had just moved in with their mother, his partner. “They had big plans together,” says his mom. He was working toward getting a second job.
“He tried not to let too much stuff bother him,” says Nicole. “But I knew when stuff was bothering him, like when we lost my mom. That took a toll on him. When my 17-year-old was shot, that took a toll on him, too.”
Anfernee’s father named him for a basketball player, and he grew up loving to play basketball and football too. He had the nickname Smoke.
“Everybody loved Smoke,” says Nicole. “He was a kindhearted person. If he had it, you had it.” —Alexa Mills
Dominic Robinson, 32
Shot on the 900 Block of Division Avenue NE on July 9
Dominic Robinson was the mayor of Deanwood. His community dubbed him that after he testified at a D.C. Council hearing on police conduct in July 2018. Dominic felt compelled to testify after police stopped and frisked a group of black men outside of Nook’s Barbershop, and a witness captured the incident on their cell phone.
“What you all saw in that video, that is nothing new,” he told lawmakers. “We’ve been going through this in this community for the last three, four years.”
Dominic inspired his community that day. It was groundbreaking for someone from his block to speak up like that.
“People like Dominic wanted to make clear they existed,” says his childhood friend, Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Anthony Lorenzo Green. “He made it very clear to me, he wanted to be more active in politics, community issues. Because he was getting tired of being judged by neighbors who didn’t speak with them, didn’t want to engage them, didn’t bother wanting to come to that corner of the community. He wanted to have his own voice, and really speak to who they were.”
Robinson wanted more for himself and his kids, whom he adored. He had dreams of running his own business one day. He and other Deanwood residents already started a T-shirt business. He also dabbled in entertainment—specifically, he was involved with HardWorkin Entertainment, a rap label Huntwood apartments residents started. But he had plans to take it to another level. —Amanda Michelle Gomez
Ronald Jones, 59
Stabbed on the 1300 block of Euclid Street NW on July 15
Ronald Jones was among the most advanced chess players in D.C., and he was a regular at the chess tables in Dupont Circle.
“He was at one point the D.C. chess champion, and that’s really quite an accomplishment,” says David Mehler, founder of the U.S. Chess Center.
“When you think about people saying, ‘Do what you love,’ chess is what he loved,” says Ronnie’s sister, Tina Boone. They grew up in Chicago, where someone from the neighborhood showed Ronnie how the chess pieces move. From there, he read Bobby Fischer Teaches Chess over and over again.
“I always thought about Ronnie as a brilliant mind,” says Tina. He was one of her older siblings in a family of seven kids, and knowing the challenges she would face being left-handed, she says, “Ronnie played games with me to where we both learned to be ambidextrous.”
Here in D.C., Jones’ great passion was teaching children to play. “He loved to see young black players rising in the world of chess,” says Jamaal Abdul-Alim, a journalist and chess player at Dupont Circle. “He had a passion for the game and he wanted to share that passion with young people,” echoes Mehler.
Wherever Jones set up, he’d invite people to play. While other chess players in Dupont stuck to the regulars, Jones reached out to tourists and passersby. “He would try to create a friendly atmosphere,” says Abdul-Alim. “He’d say, ‘Chess player?’ You know, like asking them if they wanted to partake.”
“He lived in Columbia Heights, and sometimes he would be out there in that area where the Target is, and he would set up a chess board and wait for people to approach him,” says Mehler. “And invariably people would. And if they played, he would beat them. But if they were kids … he would teach them.”
Tina says her brother sent his nieces and nephews chess boards in the mail. “He would play with them over the phone,” she says. “He had the board in his mind. He didn’t have to see it.” —Alexa Mills
Karon Brown, 11
Shot on the 2700 block of Naylor Road SE on July 18
Karon Brown was a lover of football, outdoor life, and food—namely McDonald’s. He was described by many as a good kid, a joy. He was 11 and had just completed his tenure at Stanton Elementary School when he died. He was on his way to middle school.
“He was funny, a very caring little boy,” says his mother, Kathren Brown. “I just miss his smile and his laughter. Irritating us sometimes, getting on our nerves. I miss all of that.”
He had dreams of playing in the National Football League one day. He was on the Woodland Tigers, a team he thoroughly enjoyed playing for. His coach, Michael Steve Zanders, remembers Karon as a quiet spirit with a humorous side. “He was a good kid—helpful. You didn’t have to ask him to help you out. If he saw you working he would come help you out. Quiet, funny. Liked to play practical jokes.”
Coach Z, as his players call him, met Karon and his family while recruiting for his rec team. “I met them when they just moved into the community. When I introduced myself as the football coach and the activities I had in the community, he was the first one to come to the door,” he says. Karon played cornerback and safety. His team became a new family for him.
Karon was a self-starter, too. According to Coach Z, Karon “knew how to hustle and make his own money.” He’d figured out how to make a few dollars from his benevolence: pumping gas at the gas station. He used the money to buy his favorite foods and snacks. In his way, he exuded kindness and ambition. —Candace Y.A. Montague
Ahkii Washington-Scruggs, 17
Shot on the 1100 block of Queen Street NE on July 19
When Shelina Warren, a teacher at Dunbar High School, first met Ahkii Washington-Scruggs, she told him about a childhood friend she had named Ahkii. “You never met an Ahkii like me before,” he told her. And he was right.
“He definitely left his mark on me,” she says. “He livened up the classroom when he walked in.” She found him to be a confident, bright young man.
He told a lot of jokes in class. But he could also be quiet at times, collecting his thoughts. When he was down, his classmates—particularly those who were his best friends on the football team—lifted him up. Really, they would lift each other up—usually by talking down the competition. Ahkii loved his football team because he loved the competition. His teammates also acted as family to one another, keeping each other in line. His number was 26, and a recent game the team won against H.D. Woodson was 26 to 14.
Students and faculty at Dunbar High School still talk a lot about Ahkii. Some attribute the football team’s recent wins to his jersey, which remains on the field in his honor.
“He should be here right now … getting ready to graduate,” says Warren. “This was just senseless violence to me. But I know that he is in a better place.” —Amanda Michelle Gomez
Jamal Bandy, 27
Shot on the 1300 block of Congress Street SE on July 21
Jamal Bandy, aka Bandit, is remembered by Councilmember Trayon White on his Facebook page as “always been a noble slim, and always been solid.”
Jamal was a father to an 8-year-old son who played football on the Woodland Tigers recreation team. He was an assistant coach working with Michael Steve Zanders, better known as Coach Z, to prepare young boys for gridiron competition. Coach Z remembers Jamal from when he was much younger. He attended Ballou High School with Coach Z’s daughter. “He hung around with the guys that I used to coach. So all of those guys that I used to coach came back to coach [the next group]. He brought his son up and said he wanted to coach. Nice guy. He would spend his own money on water, Gatorade, and snacks at the games.” —Candace Y.A. Montague
Francis Lee Savoy, 37
Shot on the 300 Block of 50th Street NE on July 26
“I really feel naked out here. I feel naked out here without my guarantee,” says Antwan Washington. “I miss his presence. I miss that assurance that I had somebody in my corner.”
One of Anwan’s earliest childhood memories is of his brother, Francis Lee Savoy, attacking their mother’s boyfriend. He was just 4 or 5 years old at the time, and the two boys were about a year apart—Antwan older, Francis younger. This particular boyfriend sexually abused Antwan. “So when the man used to try to do what he was going to do with me,” says Antwan, “my brother used to always fight him until he had no more fight left in his body. Sometimes the guy would knock him unconscious. But my brother would continue to get up and come back.”
The two boys made their own core family unit much of the time. As they went in and out of homes and foster care, they always stuck together. If they got separated, they found each other. “It’s like we had a magnetic pull towards each other no matter what distance, no matter the time,” says Antwan.
They loved to watch movies, and when the credits started rolling, Francis (“Franny,” at the time. The boys called each other Franny and Twonny as little boys and had a series of joint kicknames as kids, many of them courtesy of their mom) would find whatever he could in the house to make a costume and reenact the lead character. “The A-Team, MacGyver, Knight Rider, Rambo—I don’t care. Whatever we watched, after the movie went off, he would go upstairs and creatively cut himself some material, make a bandana, make some nunchucks,” says Antwan. “I think that he was extremely imaginative. I think that he just saw those things and some of those individuals on TV, and it was his way to escape our reality.”
Franny later took the nicknames Black and Jet, loving his dark skin from the time he was a little boy. “He embraced his dark complexion before the Black Lives Matter movement,” says Antwan. “He was already convinced that his black life mattered.”
Antwan loves to talk about his brother. “I’ve heard people use the terminology, they feel like a piece of them is gone. That’s a completely accurate depiction of where I am,” he says. He is attempting to find comfort, when he can, in the idea that his brother is at peace. “No more stress, no more worry.” —Alexa Mills
Ebony Washington likes to celebrate her birthday with a community service project. This year’s project was especially personal. The invitation read, “Please join me as we create a memorial for gun violence victims in Washington DC.” Her brother-in-law, Francis Lee Savoy, had recently been shot and killed. The party was on Oct. 5 in the basement of Faith United Church of Christ in Northeast, where she and her family and about 30 friends gathered to create a small wooden cross for each person who had died from gunshot wounds in D.C. in 2019. As they worked, Washington stood up to give a short talk about gun violence. Her friends then gave her an extended, joyous rendition of “Happy Birthday” before going out to place the crosses around the edge of the property. She and her husband, Antwan, hope that passersby stop to look at the crosses. —Alexa Mills
Wendell Youngblood, 46
Shot on the 1500 block of North Capitol Street NE on Aug. 3
Wendell Youngblood’s daughter wrote to City Paper about her father:
The loss of my father has everything to do with how comforting and present he was in my life. Anytime I was sad or ready to give up on something, he would tell me that I couldn’t give up because he doesn’t give up, and that we always have to fight to put the pieces back together.
My father was loving and welcoming. He learned this from my grandfather, grandmother, and great-grandmother. He taught me how to face who I was and how to wear the shoes that were meant for me. He was one of my cheerleaders and champions that kept me going as I went to law school and beyond.
He has friends and family who are feeling a loss and grieving. My father was love because he loved, deeply and unconditionally. He loved his two children, his grandchild, and his aunts and uncles. He was so smart and honest, and true to the core of being, that “family matters.”
When I would call him, it would always be a long conversation of reaching and teaching me. My father was a writer, an artist, and a counselor. Anytime he conquered an obstacle, he become focused, driven, and ready to teach this or any other lesson to his children.
He was an amazing father and the loss that my family must face is unbearable, and unfortunately long-lasting. I would not be the lawyer, woman, and daughter I am without Wendell Ellis Youngblood Jr.
Todd Messer, 51
Assaulted on the 2300 block of 18th Street NW on Aug. 8
Growing up in Newport, Kentucky, Todd Messer and his little brother Aaron “were just alike,” Aaron says. “Tweedledee and Tweedledum.” When Halloween came around, Todd liked to decide what Aaron’s costume would be. “He was the groom; I was the bride,” Aaron remembers fondly. “He was the Lone Ranger; I was Tonto. Sibling rivalries—we competed in everything. And of course, I usually came up with the short end of the stick.”
But at the end of the day, “he always protected me,” Aaron emphasizes. “And given that I was the youngest, he always got beat up a lot trying to protect me.” “We used to bike around the streets of Newport, Kentucky, one end of the city to the other. The city was ours,” he says. “Of course, our parents didn’t like it. We always got grounded.” It was never that easy to stop Todd, though. Whenever the brothers got grounded, Todd wanted to “run away to Grandma’s house. And he always got me to follow him.”
As a kid, “Todd was inquisitive,” Aaron says. “He was obstinate. He wanted to go his own way as a child.” Todd wanted to grow up “to be a public servant,” Aaron explains. “Before the drugs.” He cut off contact with his family as a teenager, and Aaron believes his brother spent decades dealing with homelessness and substance abuse. “I’ve heard there’ve been a lot of homeless attacks,” Aaron says. He thinks the world needs to remember that “these people are somebody. Nobody deserves to die like that.” —Joshua Kaplan
Alonzo Richard Hines Jr., 20
Shot on the 1500 block of 45th Street NE on Aug. 14
Saundra Haumitt posts on social media about how much she loves and misses her son, and how much her family loves and misses him, all the time. She sent City Paper a text message remembrance for him, and also this photo. “Alonzo was known as Jiggy,” she writes. “I gave him that name as an infant. He graduated from Eastern High School in 2017, and he was a very outgoing, loved sports, football, baseball, and track. Jiggy was very entertaining to his family and friends, kept us all laughing. He had the most remembering SMILE I ever seen.”
Marquita Lucas, 24
Killed on the 3700 block of Horner Place SE on Aug. 17
Marquita Lucas was loving, caring, and protective. When she wasn’t posting selfies on Instagram or Snapchat, she was spending time with her siblings and nephews.
“Her siblings and I talk about how silly she was and her protective nature of her siblings, even though she was the youngest,” says her aunt Eugena Beard. “She was very loyal to her friends and family.”
She had dreams of becoming a nurse. She was working to finish up nursing school so she could help people. As a kid, she was outgoing, outspoken, and sometimes a little bit rebellious. —Amanda Michelle Gomez
Margery Magill, 27
Stabbed on the 400 block of Irving Street NW on Aug. 27
Of all the places she lived, from Turkey to England, Margery Magill felt most at home in D.C. “Washington, D.C. was the most special place in the entire world to her,” says her sister Raeann Magill.
She was enchanted by this city. She’d always talk about the book she just found at the Library of Congress—that was one of her favorite places. She’d even go on dates with her boyfriend there. This reflects how much she loved to learn and explore.
She was also ambitious. She had every intention of working in the agriculture industry on the international level. She wasn’t yet certain about what exactly she’d do, but she always talked about the United Nations, her sister says. She wanted to help people in developing countries farm better so communities could eat well and plentifully. This always interested her; she was active in Future Farmers of America in high school.
Raeann, who was younger by four years, looked up to Margery. She remembers when Margery visited her in Argentina, where she was studying abroad. Raeann was going through a hard time, feeling depressed. She vividly remembers seeing Margery at the airport; her comforting smile, their embrace.
“Seeing her lift[ed] me up,” says Raeann. “I knew everything was going to be OK.” —Amanda Michelle Gomez
Semaj Alsobrooks, 22
Shot on the 3900 block of East Capitol Street NE on Sept. 4
Semaj Alsobrooks was a caring son. He would treat his mother, Aniedrea Galloway, to dinner out every year for her birthday, Oct. 12, taking her to a new restaurant each time.
“I miss him—to call me to say happy birthday,” says Galloway. “I loved him so much. He was my baby.”
He was friendly and kind to all, and assumed that everyone was inherently good. Likewise, people gravitated toward him and sought out his friendship. It helped that he was funny; he was very much a comedian, his mother says.
Semaj had a bright future ahead of him. He was happily married; she inspired him and he inspired her. He dreamed of one day moving to California to be a rapper. He even had an agent. If that didn’t work out, he planned to be a cross-country driver. He loved being on the road and traveling—a love he developed as a child. He’d been everywhere on the east coast because his mother would take him skiing at least twice a year. There was no sport Semaj couldn’t do.
“He wanted to take people to come to travel [with us],” says Galloway. “He wanted others to share his different experiences.” —Amanda Michelle Gomez
DeAndre Person, 19
Shot on the 3600 block of Jay Street NE on Sept. 7
Demetrius Person still speaks about his brother, DeAndre, in the present tense much of the time.
They both love music, sports, and video games. DeAndre is the better singer, while Demetrius is the better drummer. They’ve both been making music since they were 5 or 6 years old. They go to church at Restoration Temple where their uncle is the pastor, and they sing gospel music there.
DeAndre is the baby of the family at 19, and Demetrius is 21. They have two older brothers.
DeAndre plays football and is a ’Skins fan. Demetrius plays baseball and is a Cowboys fan. They both like video games, specifically Madden NFL and an NBA game.
They fight all the time, but the fights don’t last. Demetrius says they “just wait a couple minutes and start to make up.”
“He always made people smile and laugh,” says Demetrius. —Alexa Mills
Alphonzo and Eric Carter, 55 and 53
Shot in the 2200 Block of Savannah Terrace SE on Sept. 16
Alphonzo and Eric were brothers.
Alphonzo was more of a homebody. That meant he spent a lot of time caring for his family. He was a loving father, a compassionate grandfather, and a caring son.
“He was a boy scout,” says his sister, Renee Carter. “He was a natural fixer-upper … He always walked around the house, fixing things. He worked on his car. He worked on my car if I needed it. He was a good person—he took care of mom really well.”
When Alphonzo got up in the morning, he was quick to prepare his mother’s breakfast. Sometimes he’d make a stack of pancakes or grill some sausages. When she had a stroke, he made sure to feed her healthy food, giving her fruit or a plain bagel with a light spread of cream cheese. When he wasn’t caring for his mom, he was taking his grandson to the playground.
Eric, for his part, was “an old man in a young man’s body,” says Renee, meaning he was wise. He always had a message to share: “If you hang around a hotdog stand, you’ll eat a hotdog,” or “If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything.”
Things got hard for Eric after he injured his back on the job; he worked construction. He became further injured when his spinal discs ruptured in a car accident. Eric got addicted to his prescribed pain medication. But eventually, things started to look up for Eric: He got himself a girlfriend, was about to secure an apartment, and the homeless shelter he stayed at recommended him for a job there.
Eric fatally shot his brother Alphonzo, and then police fatally shot Eric. Renee says Eric sought mental health help the week before he died, and she questions whether inadequate care led her otherwise caring brother to kill. —Amanda Michelle Gomez
Sean Coleman-Bey, 20
Shot on the 1400 block of Brentwood Road NE on Sept. 19
City Paper spoke with two teachers who taught Sean when he was a child. Devin Stokes was an assistant teacher in Sean’s fourth grade class, and Gary Reid was his junior high Spanish teacher, both at Tree of Life Public Charter School. Each teacher posted a Facebook status mourning a student they loved.
“He was one of those students who was an old soul in a young body,” says Stokes. “Very wise, beyond his age. Very low key. A natural leader. He was very artistic, musically.”
Stokes remembers a time all of Sean’s gifts came together. The principal had asked each class to come up with an original song to perform at a pep rally. “I was sitting there along with the lead teacher, and we were trying to brainstorm some ideas,” says Stokes. “And I remember Sean started beating on his desk, and he had this rhythm to it. And then he started humming this melody. And it was very, very unique. And from that point I could see the other students become intrigued.”
“He was able to galvanize the other students and bring them in,” says Stokes.
He was a math wiz. “He would coach the students who were really struggling,” says Stokes. Sean also watched out for his younger siblings.
Reid had Sean in class a few years later, and then he had Sean’s little brother and sister. He went to the funeral to pay the whole family his respects.
“He was very attentive in class,” says Reid, remembering Sean. “He was a very jovial person, a very even-tempered person. He was very well respected. He was a good student and he was never disrespectful. And he was always willing to listen.” —Alexa Mills
Jamel Kirkland, 17
Shot on the 1300 block of Morris Road SE on Sept. 22
“Chip was a student in my eighth grade English class,” says Christina Cook, a teacher at the SEED School of Washington, D.C. That was Jamel Kirkland’s nickname, Chip. She had him in class three years ago.
“On any given day, Chip could be found in my room sitting in the reading area—really more so laying in the reading area, because it’s a comfortable space for kids to work—reading books. He liked science fiction books. He liked mystery books,” she says. “He loved to read all types of literature.”
She remembers how he engaged with one book in particular, a National Book Award winner titled Inside Out And Back Again by Thanhha Lai. It’s the story of a little girl and her big family fleeing Saigon as the Vietnam War reaches their home. “Jamel was very fascinated with one of her brothers, a character in the story. His name was Vu, and Vu was a kung fu artist,” she says. “Jamel used to talk a lot about his sisters and his mom and how much he respected them, and that’s why he could relate so much to Vu.”
When Chip died, she and her students created a song for him in class. She believes in using all the senses to teach. “The sense of music, sound, hearing, everything, all the senses to help kids grapple with information,” she says. Cook usually writes up some lyrics and the kids come up with a beat. Chip was really good at it. “He would always be the kid I could count on that would participate,” she says. “He would always say, ‘Cook, yo, this is lit.’”
Her voice halts when she talks about it.
“He’s a kid who, if he was still here, he would have gone far in life,” she says, remembering him as a natural entrepreneur. “This kid cared—I mean from his soul, from his gut—about other people’s well-being. And his death was just a gut punch. It was a gut punch. Because we’re talking about a kid who was selfless.” —Alexa Mills
Devon Miler, 24
Shot on the 1600 block of Rosedale Street NE on Oct. 9
Lillie Warren raised Devon Miler. She was his grandmother and had him since he was a baby. “It’s just been me and him,” says Lillie. “When I got him, he was really sick—he couldn’t walk, he couldn’t do a lot of things.”
But his illnesses and his severe autism didn’t stop him from enjoying the simple things he loved. He especially liked his wrestling figurines. Anywhere Devon went, his toy figures came with him. He watched WWE SmackDown, and on occasion, he’d wrestle too.
“By me being sick, I couldn’t go out and do much with him. But when we’re here, we’re playing music. He loved to sing and dance,” says Lillie. He enjoyed singing along with his aunt, Amirah Christine Warren, who sings professionally.
When he did get out of the house, Devon loved to ride in cars. His caregiver, Lekelefac Fonge, would drive him around and that made him smile. Fonge, who was also fatally shot on Oct. 9, introduced him to a lot of new things, like his African culture. Fonge was originally from Cameroon. “He loved his aide,” says Lillie.
“He loved his family,” says Amirah Christine. “What really mattered to him and what made him really happy was when he had birthday parties. And my mother made sure he had a birthday party every single birthday he has ever had.”
Everyone would come over to Lillie’s house and she’d cook him something special. Beef and broccoli was Devon’s favorite dish. And his favorite saying? “Yeah Baby!”—he’d say that to everyone, especially to the women in his life.
Dozens of his family and friends attended his vigil at his grandmother’s house on Oct. 16. But the connection Devon had with his grandmother was something special, because when Fonge wasn’t caring for Devon, Lillie was.
“I had to do everything for him, and that was something I loved to do for him,” says Lillie. “Now I’m like, who am I going to take care of now? Because I was always there for him. I’m going to miss taking care of him.” —Amanda Michelle Gomez
Thomas Lamont Johnson, 15
Shot on the 1300 block of Half Street SW on Oct. 9
Thomas Lamont “TJ” Johnson enjoyed cutting grass for family members. He also loved nature, pet turtles, and his father’s dog, Clifford. In terms of sports, he played youth football for the Benning Stoddert Sharks, and on Sundays it was all about the Dallas Cowboys.
But on Oct. 18, Rev. Steve Young, pastor of the House of Praise, stood in front of a royal blue casket resting in the Northeast D.C. sanctuary that was filled with stone-faced teenagers, and he knocked three times.
“The case is closed,” said Young as he walked in front of the casket. For half an hour, Young delivered a sermon that mixed tough talk, humor, and the word of God.
Despite stirring gospel complete with drums, keyboards, and jazzy uptempo church music, most teenagers sat motionless in the pews. Most did not cry, clap, or sing. They just sat there. Then when it was time for eulogies, TJ’s best friend spoke, followed by his old football coach and the woman who owns the daycare center where his grieving mother works.
“To me it ain’t never going to be OK, I can’t get him back,” the young man said. He talked about how they shared carryout meals together because either he or TJ was broke. A few days before he died, TJ told him he wanted to dine at Ruth’s Chris Steak House for his birthday.
When the coach spoke, he told the young men in the room, “Pull up your pants … If you want to honor Thomas, go to school, make a difference.” The coach then told the adults: “Parents, find a way to love your children.” He looked at TJ’s mother and said, “Ms. Brenda, you did everything in your power.”
When the daycare center owner spoke, she said TJ loved to cut grass in her backyard because it was so peaceful.
Young preached from Matthew 25:13 in the New Testament, which reads, “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.” He named his sermon, “Ready or not, here I come.”
As TJ’s casket was pushed out of the church, a long line of teenagers followed it, walking through a gauntlet of older mothers who served as church ushers. One lady yelled out, “Why aren’t you all in school?” A teenage girl replied, “We had permission to come.” —Hamil R. Harris
Dilcia Rodriguez, 32
Shot on the 700 block of Chesapeake Street SE on Oct 16
Latisha Leonard wrote to City Paper about her friend, Dilcia Rodriguez.
I would like to say this about Dilcia “Dee Dee”Rodriguez: I met Dee Dee when she started working at 801 East Men’s Shelter with Catholic Charities about five years ago. We started off as just co-workers and as time passed it manifested into a strong friendship. Dee Dee became my sister and my best friend. It was nothing we didn’t do together. Dee Dee was caring and a non-judgmental person; she would really give you her last if she had it. With anyone she met, she would come up with a nickname for them. My nickname she had for me was her Linky, because I am tall and slim.
Dee Dee leaves behind her four loving children that meant the world to her. Dee Dee was very family oriented. We would get together with our children on different occasions and have cookouts, dinner nights, and some holiday family gatherings. On her free weekends, when we both had some free time from our children, we would go out to have a little fun and let our hair down. Dee Dee loved to have fun and her smile and laugh would light up a whole building.
Dee Dee was loved, and is still loved by so many family, friends, and co-workers. It is such a tragedy that this beautiful soul was taken in the mist of domestic violence, and I hope that Dilcia “Dee Dee” Rodriguez’s story reaches others in the same situation to bring awareness. Dee Dee, you will truly be missed.
Shaquan Buggie, 17
Shot on the 4600 Block of Hillside Road SE on Nov. 17
When Shaquan Buggie wasn’t at school, he would watch his 3-year-old nephew, Ahdream. They’d play games. Shaquan would try to teach Ahdream how to play video games or just let him run around outside with his scooter.
“He loved him like he was his [son],” says Shaquan’s mother, Karen Blakeney. “He watched his other nieces and nephews. He loved his family.”
When Shaquan was younger, he was very independent. In fact, he taught himself how to ride a bike. No one understands exactly how he managed to do this, but it involved riding on his bike’s rear wheels until he learned to bike properly. “You had to be there and see it to understand,” says Karen. He continued to have an independent mindset as he got older. Shaquan had every intention of becoming an entrepreneur when he grew up. He wanted to make his own clothes.
“I always like to remember his smile and the way he joked,” says Karen.
There’s this one moment she looks back on fondly, when Shaquan and her daughter were at Home Depot. Shaquan tried to play a joke on his mother. He told her to think fast, throwing bubble wrap her way. It ended up hitting her in the face because she was caught off guard. Karen was like, “Boy, you are crazy.” That’s when Shaquan started laughing. His sister captured the whole thing on her cellphone.
“He was just a loving person and he touched everybody’s heart [that] he ever encountered,” says Karen. “I am going to miss him so much. He was one of a kind. He really was.” —Amanda Michelle Gomez
Clarence Venable, 40
Shot on the 3200 block of Dubois Place SE on Nov. 22
“Why you mad?” Clarence Venable would always ask. He said it so frequently, Venable thought of getting his saying trademarked or printed on T-shirts, says his childhood friend Sean Magruder. There was a reason Venable always said this.
“He wanted to make sure everybody is getting along,” says Magruder.
Venable did his best to deescalate fights and keep his community safe as a violence interrupter with MURDER FREE DC. It came naturally to Venable to get involved in this type of work; he was outgoing. He was also doing the work long before he got the official title.
“He wanted D.C. to be a place that his kids could grow up without worrying about gun violence,” Magruder says.
He had five kids, and he cherished them. He loved being a father. He wanted to form a basketball or football league, starting with his own kids. He was especially proud of one of his children, the comedian. Venable, for his part, cracked jokes all the time. He didn’t have the resources to do comedy professionally, so he was really happy to see his son do stand-up. —Amanda Michelle Gomez
Michael Cunningham, 28
Shot on the 3000 block of 30th Street SE on Nov. 29
Michael Cunningham was very close to his mother. When she passed away a few days before his good friend Semaj Alsobrooks was fatally shot, on Sept. 4, he still made sure to check in on Semaj’s family.
“I kept thinking, ‘I’m going to reach out to him everyday, because I’m the adult. But he came and checked on me,’” says Semaj’s mother, Aniedrea Galloway. “He would check on my nephews, nieces, goddaughter—checking in on all of them to make sure they are alright.”
That was the kind of guy Michael was. When Semaj was due in court for a gun-related charge, Michael made sure to be there for him—he even took the bus to the courthouse after his car broke down along the way.
“He was always there for my son—good, bad, whatever,” says Galloway.
Michael tried to be there for everyone, for people he knew well and complete strangers. When Galloway’s goddaughter got off work late at night, he’d escort her from her car to her apartment complex. And if an elderly person needed help with their groceries, he’d do it.
“He was a gentleman. In this day and age, that’s rare. He went out of his way to be respectful. I’ve never seen him disrespectful,” says Galloway. —Amanda Michelle Gomez