Grieving and mothering in the wake of gun violence
Kameron Goings saves artwork from day care every day to show his big brother.
Every night, the 3-year-old waits for Daevion Raines to come home so he can show him what he made.
Daevion never comes home. Kameron screams for his brother, nicknamed “Dae Dae,” to come back, said Shanena Lewis, mother to both.
“I say, ‘He’s with God now,’ ” Lewis said.
As Lewis grieves for the 15-year-old son who was shot and killed last month, she struggles to explain to Kameron and a 13-year-old niece she adopted what happened, and she worries about how to protect them. Lewis and Daevion talked often the gun violence that plagues the Mon Valley and places he should avoid. The alley in Duquesne where police found Daevion shot dead was on the top of that list.
A week before he died, Daevion told his mother he would never go to that alley.
“So for him to get murdered there, it just broke my heart,” Lewis said.
PARENTING THROUGH GRIEF
Often, mothers grieving sons and daughters who were shot and killed in the streets still have to parent. Answers don’t come easily when a family is shattered by gun violence.
Daevion, a West Mifflin High School student, was found dead in a car June 16 on his way home from Kennywood. Three days later, 28-year-old Deandre Bratcher was gunned down in a car outside his girlfriend’s house in Wilkinsburg. Three days after that, 19-year-old Indiana University of Pennsylvania student Jazmere Custis was shot dead in her car after leaving a Homestead house party.
Tanya Burt, surrounded by photos of her daughter, Custis, worries about her older son. Bratcher’s mother, Annette Wolfe, doesn’t let her children see her tears.
“If they see me break down, they’ll break down,” she said.
Daevion, Bratcher and Custis were among the 15 people shot and killed in Allegheny County in June, including rapper Jimmy Wapo and Antwon Rose II, a Woodland Hills High School student shot by East Pittsburgh police Officer Michael Rosfeld.
Fourteen were black. Only three were older than 30. There have been four arrests.
Burt, Lewis and Wolfe said the only thing they can imagine helping them is for police to catch their children’s killers.
“I don’t think anything’s going to help me right now unless they find out who murdered my baby,” Lewis said.
All three question whether Allegheny County Police homicide detectives are trying hard enough. The mothers call multiple times a week. The police listen, but there are never any updates.
“It’s not a priority at all. This is just another homicide,” Lewis said.
County homicide detectives counter that they are actively investigating all three cases.
“There’s nothing we can publicly share, but we are making progress on all three,” Lt. Andrew Schurman said. “I know that’s hard for families to hear -- that we’re making progress but can’t tell you what that is.”
Police don’t share the identities of possible suspects with the public or victims’ families because they don’t want the information to get back to the suspect, Schurman said.
The homicide/violent crime unit has 18 detectives, a lieutenant and a sergeant, Schurman said. They investigate all homicides and violent crimes that occur in the county that are outside Pittsburgh’s city limits. That typically amounts to between 50 and 60 killings per year.
When many homicides happen during a short period, resources are tight, Schurman said.
“The fact that you had three murders in one night puts a great strain on our resources,” Schurman said, referring to the night of June 19, when Rose, Bratcher, and 21-year-old Leryal Matthews were killed.
Custis was killed the next night.
NOT THE TARGET
On June 22, Custis and her college roommate were leaving a party about 2 a.m. in Homestead when her roommate’s brother and a friend asked for a ride. Custis was hesitant but agreed and let the teens hop in the back seat of her mother’s car. When she stopped to drop off the teens in Munhall, someone started shooting.
Custis was pronounced dead at the scene. The three other teens in the car survived. Custis was not the target, Schurman said.
Dozens of 4-by-6 photos cover the walls of Burt’s Mount Washington studio apartment. In them, a smiling Custis poses in Halloween costumes, color guard uniforms and prom dresses. Steel Valley High School report cards displaying nearly straight A’s hang on the fridge. Her softball and cheerleading trophies sit proudly on the nightstand.
“The first thing I did was put all her pictures up, but the longer they’re up, I don’t know how much longer I’m gonna be able to look at them,” said Burt, clutching her daughter’s old necklace and wearing a black T-shirt that reads “Justice for Jazmere.”
For Lewis, looking at Daevion’s things made the pain worse. She didn’t go into her son’s room for nearly three weeks after he was killed.
“I haven’t given myself time to grieve,” Lewis said.
Lewis channels her sadness into activism. She wants to open a rec center in her son’s name. She wants police to install ShotSpotter technology around Duquesne to detect gunshots in real time. She meets weekly with Duquesne Mayor Nickole Nesby.
As with Custis, police do not believe Daevion was targeted for violence, Schurman said. Investigators think the shooting stemmed from a longstanding feud between people in Duquesne and Homestead.
Wolfe worries that gun violence will take away her 11-year-old daughter and 9-year-old son, too. Bratcher was a good kid, she said, the way her 9-year-old is now.
“As he got older, all the outside influences snatched him up and grabbed such a strong hold on him,” Wolfe said. ” No matter what I tried, I couldn’t get him back.”
Bratcher had been out of jail for two months and three days after pleading guilty to drug possession when he was killed. Instead of partying, he was spending time with his new girlfriend, his family and his 9-year-old son, DeAndre Bratcher Jr., Wolfe said.
He didn’t need his mother to remind him about an upcoming court appearance, as she had done on previous occasions. He was already Downtown looking for a parking spot when she called.
“He was doing everything he needed to do,” Wolfe said. “He was headed in the right direction. Someone took his life and cheated him out of his chance to do it right this time.”