In the aftermath of a young person’s murder, other youth left to grieve include siblings, cousins and friends — all attempting to make sense of what has become the recent norm in the greater Washington area.
For Kiron Andrews, the past few months have meant changes in the daily routine, increasing the focus on extracurricular activities and even standing shoulder-to-shoulder with other youth as a participant in a citywide initiative to end gun violence.
“I talk about my problems and face my fears,” Kiron said.
Kiron, 12, recently spoke to a group standing on the intersection of Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue and Malcolm X Boulevard in Southeast about how he’s dealt with the loss of his friend and onetime teammate, Karon Brown.
Two years ago, Karon, 11, died after being shot outside of a gas station on Naylor Road in Southeast during what had been alleged to be a dispute between children and a group of older men.
On the evening of July 27, Karon participated in a rally that brought community members, once again, in front of Mart Liquor.
Nearly two weeks prior, 6-year-old Nyiah Courtney lost her life near Mart Liquor when a gunman riding in a car along Malcolm X Boulevard opened fire on a crowd.
In the days and weeks after Nyiah’s death, community members, young and old, have gathered on that corner to speak out against the string of violent deaths that have gripped their community.
For Kiron, overcoming the conditions of his neighborhood has become an exercise in avoiding the wrong places.
“This happens to young people because we’re hanging outside and get caught up in the midst of gunfire,” he said. “I simply stay home, go to school and play football. I won’t be anywhere in the streets unless I’m helping out my community. I don’t feel safe.”
Dealing with the Aftermath of a Gun-Related Death
The Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) recently announced the arrest of Marktwan Hargraves for his alleged involvement in the shooting death of Nyiah.
According to court documents, Hargraves, a 22-year-old Waldorf, Md., resident, expressed remorse for taking part in the July 16 shooting. An ongoing investigation revealed that Nyiah’s father may have been the intended target.
Several days after Nyiah’s death, a bevy of young people, parents, teachers, coaches and other community members converged on the football field of Stanton Elementary School in Southeast for “Karon Brown Day.”
The second annual gathering provided an opportunity to spread messages of peace and reflect on the impact of Karon’s life. It also compelled many of the young people in attendance to burst into tears, not only for their friend but for other young people who’ve lost their lives to violence.
As of July 28, the police department has recorded 112 homicides in 2021, an increase of 4 percent over the total recorded at the same time last year. People under the age of 24 have counted among a significant portion of casualties during a period of pandemic-related anxiety, job loss, socioeconomic inequity and animosity toward law enforcement.
Research suggests that exposure to gun violence, both in one’s immediate surroundings and through the media, can create chemical imbalances within the brain and body which often cause obesity, heart disease, diabetes and mental health disorders.
Trauma also manifests itself in children through increased thoughts and discussion about death, avoiding extracurricular activities and difficulty separating from parents.
Therapist Tiffani Boykin said she encounters young people who have mentally and emotionally struggled after witnessing and experiencing violent police encounters, armed robberies, murders and other traumatic situations in their neighborhood.
Through her private practice, Human Revolutions, Boykin often hears firsthand accounts of events and circumstances that compel her young clients to commit violent acts and abuse mind-altering substances.
She told The Informer that breaking ground with a client requires her to see their humanity and potential to heal before addressing the root causes of their pain and exposing them to alternative methods of self-expression.
“I help young people go within to find their strengths and gifts. When we start, they often don’t know,” Boykin said.
“Some of them have a sense that they’re here to do something in the community or make a lot of money in business. I try to connect everything to going back within and finding a sense of resilience and life purpose. It’s an ability to be able to transcend the challenges you’ve experienced from your environment,” she said.
In neighboring Prince George’s County, Md., Xavier McKnight said he’s working with his mother and other family members to find some semblance of peace. However, months after his younger brother’s murder, McKnight has struggled to process the events that took place just hours before his 18th birthday.
On the night of April 17, a 12-year-old boy shot and killed McKnight’s younger brother, King Douglas, and stabbed another person near Dave & Busters in Capitol Heights, Md.
Days earlier, the family had returned from a Miami vacation. On the evening of King’s murder, the brothers said goodbye to one another before going along their separate paths to spend time with friends.
Hours later, McKnight, who was with his cousin, heard about the melee through word of mouth. Shortly after, his grandmother confirmed King as the casualty, much to his dismay. Though feelings of anger and confusion have subsided, McKnight has since become more cognizant about where he goes and who he’s around.
“The shootings and killings of kids is really out of control. I don’t think it’s going to stop anytime soon,” McKnight, an Upper Marlboro, Md. resident, told The Informer.
“It would be nice if it did so people could go outside and do everyday things without worrying about being killed. I don’t go to certain places because I know I might see certain people,” he said.
Living Life for Those Dead and Gone
For many youths, the sudden and unexpected death of a friend brings to mind dreams that will never come to fruition. Jamal Gomez said when he plays football at Ridge Road Recreation Center, he does so with memories of his friend Davon McNeal in the back of his mind.
Davon, 11, lost his life last year on July 4 during the closing hours of an anti-violence cookout. As the event at Cedar Gardens, organized by Davon’s mother, came to a close, five men engaged in a shootout near the park. One of the bullets fatally struck Davon who had just completed his first year at Kramer Middle School.
As Jamal recounted to The Informer, he spoke with Davon a couple of days before his death about possibly joining him as a member of the Metro Bengals. He said he wanted nothing more than to play next to his friend.
“Davon’s future goal was to be in the NFL,” said Jamal, 12, a wide receiver for the Ridge Road Titans.
“He was a good person,” Jamal said. “When I was in a bad mood, Davon would crack a joke and try to get me in good spirits. I suggest that people deal with loss with motivation and accomplish everything for their missing folks. I want to go to the NFL for my friend.”