THEY WERE OUR NEIGHBORS
Hundreds of St. Louis area residents died by gun violence during 2016. They included babies, teenagers, adults and senior citizens. They were male and female, black and white, rich and poor. They lived in the inner city and the suburbs. The common thread that links them all is that they met violent deaths at the barrel of a gun, which was doing what guns are designed to do: kill. Here are the stories of a few of our neighbors and friends.
Jamyha Luss was visiting a friend when two boys stopped to visit. One of the boys had a gun. Jamyha was a student at Gateway Middle School and lived most of her life with her grandmother, Shirley Wright, and her four siblings.
Cameron Harper admitted that he shot his wife, Jannicka Andujar, while his children were inside their apartment. The children are now in protective custody. Shirley Moffit-Smith, Andujar’s mother, told a television reporter that there were problems in the marriage, but she never thought her son-in-law would use violence. “In my presence this guy was so gentle, so sweet. I would never ever have thought in a million years that he would do this to my daughter,” said Moffit-Smith The shooting happened in University City
One of his teachers described Darrell Paige as one of the kindest, most thoughtful, most creative, and most amazing students he ever had the opportunity to teach. Darrell went to school at Langston Middle and graduated from Sumner High in St. Louis. He was working toward a business degree and had an incredibly bright future ahead of him.
According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Jose Garcia was a gift-bearer when the Pope John Paul II visited St. Louis in 1999. His parents and their three children won a raffle to participate in the largest Catholic Mass ever celebrated in St. Louis.
Dressed in black, his mother sobbed between stories about her son, who, like the family, has struggled with divorce, financial challenges and prison time. The family moved to St. Louis from Chicago for better jobs and life away from gangs. They ran a restaurant on Cherokee Street.
“We came here to have a better life for the kids,” his mother said. “If I would have known this would happen, I would have stayed in Chicago.”
According to police, an investigation showed that shots were fired after some youths got into an altercation inside a vehicle. Quintin Pearson-Harts, a 19-year-old from Kinloch, was pronounced dead. On gunmemorial.org he is remembered as attending McCluer South High School and working as a metal processor. His friends described him as funny, talented, outgoing, and reliable.
A remark on Legacy.com says: “Steve was one of my favorite guys and I was blessed to know him from early grade school where he played baseball ..as a pitcher, he could throw a fastball at 80 mph in 7th grade….then I got to be great friends with him during 4 years of high school hockey … where he could play with the best of the best. Sunkel was one of a kind and I will never forget him!!!”
St. Louis Public Radio reported that clergy members, activists and community representatives gathered to mourn the death of 15-year-old Jorevis Scruggs, who was fatally shot by police. Police say the teen was shot after he pointed a gun at an officer who gave chase as Scruggs jumped out of a suspected stolen car. “There are times where I want to raise the question: ‘Why?’ This is our lament. This is our pain. A mother is hurting somewhere. Siblings are hurting somewhere. An uncle came down. He couldn’t even stay because he’s in so much pain.” – The Rev. Robert Scott
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that Joseph Reise’s son was charged with his murder. His obituary reads: Beloved father of Joseph E. (Nikki) Reise, Jesse M. Reise and Jacqueline Kay Reise. Cherished grandfather of Tyler Joseph Reise, Makayla Nichole Reise and Trevor Joseph Reise. Loving son of Virginia Whitworth and the late Charles Reise. Dear brother of Stephen (Jane) Reise, Phillip (Angela) Reise, David ThReise, Mary (William) Dalton and Richard W. (Jennifer L.) Reise. Dear friend of Barbara Spain. Nephew, uncle, cousin and friend. Barbara Spain wrote: “We knew each other better than we knew ourselves. I knew your thoughts, I could finish your sentences. I love you so much, I miss you terribly, I don’t know how I’m going to live without you.”
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that Rashondra Pate had a special routine at the Strawberry International School of Bridgeton Day Care Center. Pate, the center’s general manager, would meet Reign Crockett’s mother at the door each morning and take the baby boy from her arms. “I could get him to laugh out loud,” Pate said of the 8-month-old Reign. “He had green eyes, and he was just very precious. A joy to be around.” Police say that the baby was fatally shot by his father, Diata R. Crockett, as his parents fought about divorcing.
There were no witnesses to DaMontez Jones’ death, but police believe the 15-year-old may have been trying to take a selfie while holding a loaded gun, which unexpectedly discharged. At the time of the shooting, Jones was home with his older brothers, 16 and 17, as well as a younger half-sibling. There were no adults present at the time of the shooting. Jones apparently found the gun loaded and unlocked on the top shelf in a bedroom closet. Jones had just finished his freshman year at Ritenour High School. He went by the nickname “Tez” and had recently been baptized. He attended church, loved to play golf and was a very smart boy, according to his grandmother.
Tyrell A. Thompson
The St. Louis American reported that the life of Tyrell Thompson – an accomplished artist with a gift for friendship–ended abruptly when he was shot by a stranger trying to steal his wallet. He was 29. After graduating from Hazelwood East High School, Thompson, known to his friends as “Rell Finesse”, studied for three years at the Art Institute of Santa Monica and then continued his studies at Webster University, pursuing a degree in graphic design. He was a nurturing role model for his family and friends, and his home and studio provided a safe haven for fellow artists.
Police say that Jessica Paxton apparently drove her boyfriend to the Dutchtown neighborhood to buy heroin on the night of June 12. Paxton’s 2-year-old son, Connor, was also in the car. Before the drug deal could begin, a man tried to rob the couple in the 4600 block of South Spring Ave. Paxton, 23, was shot as she tried to drive away and later died at a hospital. Her boyfriend and son were unhurt. Paxton’s parents, Ronald Paxton Sr. and Kay Lincoln, said their daughter was not a drug user. “I don’t know how she got herself in that situation,” Paxton Sr. said. “She was a hard worker, and her son was everything to her.” She worked as a waitress at Biggies Restaurant and Bar and was a graduate of Fox High School.
Mussie Ogbai Gebregziabher
Mussie Ogbai Gebregziabher was shot and killed at his home. Comments from the tributes.com page: Such a beautiful soul you had, that smile from cheek bone to cheek bone you had. Everytime I seen you you always made sure we hugged always made me happy. Man you are loved by many and missed by many. Love ya
Reginald Wilkes – Eunice Cain – Kenneth Murray
Among the seven people who died in the region over the 4th of July weekend were Reginald Wilkes, 59, and Eunice Cain, 60. According to police, 44-year-old Kenneth Murray shot Wilkes, who was his stepfather, and Cain, who was his mother, before turning the gun on himself. The victims and suspect were pronounced dead at the scene. According to gunviolencememorial.org, Reginald’s nickname was “Cowboy.”
Jacara Sproaps – Maurice Partlow
Authorities said that Maurice Hoskins, 40, shot his ex-girlfriend, Jacara Sproaps, 38, and her new boyfriend, 40-year-old Maurice Partlow, and Sproaps’ 18-year-old son. Sproaps and Partlow were pronounced dead at the scene. Sproaps’ son was taken to the hospital and listed in critical, stable condition.
Sproaps was the principal at Dunbar Elementary School in St. Louis. The St. Louis Public School District issued the following statement: “The Saint Louis Public School District suffered a great loss today with the tragic passing of Jacara Sproaps. Ms. Sproaps was a talented and dedicated principal and a true champion for children. An employee with the District for more than 14 years, Ms. Sproaps began her career as a teacher’s assistant in January 2002. She also held positions as a substitute teacher, special education teacher, assistant principal and administrative intern prior to being named principal at Dunbar in 2013.” Her uncle said, “She was an angel. A total angel. She was the crown jewel in our family. I would like people to remember her as a kind spirit. Someone [who] was accessible and someone who never changed. She was always smiling and giving herself for everyone.”
Carole Comer; Thomas Patrick Comer; John Comer; Rebecca Comer Kelleher
The Post-Dispatch reported that a man who killed his wife, two of their adult children and himself at home suffered from paranoia and depression. Police said Thomas P. Comer, 73, committed suicide after fatally shooting his wife, Carole Comer, 71; their son John M. Comer, 50; and their daughter, Rebecca Kelleher, 45.
Thomas and Carole Comer had celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary. They had five children and seven grandchildren. Obituaries said Thomas Comer was “a brilliant engineer who designed aircraft for NASA, McDonnell Douglas and Boeing,” and that Carole Comer “never complained and always remained positive during her health issues.” A longtime family friend said Carole Comer had been battling lung cancer.
John Comer enjoyed movies and trivia and was a member of St. Louis Family Church, his obituary said. Kelleher, the mother of one son, was described as an artist, passionate about social justice and animal rights.
George Calmese Jr.
The Post-Dispatch reported that George Calmese was attending the funeral of his cousin, Thelma Calmese, when a family child-custody argument erupted into violence. When a man at the service walked out of the funeral home with his 5-year-old daughter, one of Thelma Calmese’s three surviving children, Calmese intervened. The argument turned into a physical fight. Two men pulled guns on Calmese, fatally shot him and wounded his teenage son, police say.
Dexter Pitts and a friend were driving on North Florissant Ave. when a group of people driving a burgundy vehicle deliberately hit their car and started shooting at them.
His obituary states: Mr. Dexter Pitts, Jr. leaves to cherish his memory four children, Arzell Pitts, Dmorin Pitts, Dhyson Pitts, Brooklyn Pitts; loving mother, Ora L. Dodson; father, Dexter R. Pitts Sr.; one sister, Brittany Carother (Richard); three brothers, Trevon William, Daniel Pitts, DeVonte Dodson; grandmother, Barbara McRoberts, Clara Pitts; along with a host of uncles, aunts, cousins and friend
From the Riverfront Times article by writer Ben Westhoff:
“I met Jorell Cleveland for the first time at the Big Brothers Big Sisters’ former office in the Central West End. It was July 1, 2005, and he was about four feet tall with a big afro. He was eight. I thought: There must be some mistake. This kid is so charming and adorable that he couldn’t possibly need mentorship. People must fall at his feet….. Eleven years, one month and three weeks after we met, Jorell was walking from his house in Ferguson toward a store on Airport Road, where he was going to buy jewelry. It was August 27, 2016 — Saturday afternoon. He had money because he’d been working long hours at a chicken and fish place — that is, when he wasn’t in school or mowing lawns. He took a shortcut through Kinloch, and somewhere along the way a guy or a group of guys ambushed him. .. Jorell was 19. He never complained, ever, at least not that I heard, which is a weird thing for a human, especially considering he didn’t even have sheets on his bed…. He had lots of siblings, sharing at least one parent with six girls and four other boys. Almost all of them lived together with his dad Joe, a gregarious guy who’d done roofing work before he got injured…. If life for a kid in a dangerous part of north county was a game, he was attempting to play by its rules. Never mind that they were increasingly byzantine and cruel; he was making a go of it. Last weekend finally someone picked up the board, shook all the pieces off, and said “game over.” His death was senseless, but his life had meaning.”
KMOV TV reported that Steven White, 71, of the 4600 block of Seattle St., was found lying in front of a residence in the 8700 block of College around 1:30 a.m. White was transported to a hospital, where he was later pronounced dead. According to police, three teens are being held by the St. Louis County Family Court. “I think someone knew he was coming, they wanted money, and figured a 71-year-old 5’1″ man was a perfect target,” said White’s stepson. “Where are 14-year-old getting guns from? They don’t have passports. It’s ridiculous. A Go Fund Me account says he was a Vietnam Veteran.
The body of Timothy Grice was discovered inside his cab at the corner of Kingshighway and Laclede Ave. in the Central West End.
According to the Post-Dispatch, Mary Nelton, a cashier at Laclede Cab for 11 years, spoke kindly of Grice. “He was a very nice man,” Nelton said. “He was always very friendly.” Rosetta Frazier, who lives in the same apartment building as Grice, said she was shocked by the news. “He was a friendly guy,” Frazier said. “He was a very, very nice guy. He was always pleasant and polite.”
Officer Blake Snyder
Snyder, 33, a four-year veteran of the St. Louis County Police Department, was shot while responding to a disturbance call. Police said he was shot “point blank,” immediately after exiting his squad car. Snyder is survived by a wife and two-year-old son. On social media, Snyder’s posts are dominated by his young family. Many of his Facebook posts revolved around his son, including pictures of the child as an infant surrounded by police regalia, such as a hat, belt, and handcuffs, and even wearing a police onesie.
Jamarr Mack, Jr
Jamarr Mack Jr., 14, died after he was fatally shot on Lee Ave. while walking home from the library down the street. Family members described him as an outgoing, ambitious boy who dreamed of playing professional basketball. Jamarr was a regular at the library near his home on Anderson Ave., where he would go to meet up with friends, finish homework or read. He loved math and regularly scored at the top of his class, his cousin Jovan Henderson said. “He was friendly and bright,” Henderson said. “He always kept a smile on his face.” Jamarr’s mother, Danielle Smith, said in a television interview that her son was “smart and intelligent and a fun guy to be around. He was just 14 years old, an innocent kid. He gave me a kiss and told me he loved me every day.”
Lonnie Middlebrook – Jonathan Warren
Lonnie Middlebrook and Jonathan Warren were killed by a 73-year-old homeowner, who said he was working in his garage in the 4100 block of Taft Ave. in the Bevo neighborhood when two men armed with pistols entered and demanded his pickup truck, which was parked outside. The homeowner pulled a pistol from his pocket and fired, killing both intruders. The homeowner told the Post-Dispatch, “I wish it had never happened. I am devastated over it.” His obituary says that 20-year-old Lonnie Middlebrook is survived by his proud mother and loving father; his maternal grandmother and life-long grandfather by marriage; his paternal grandfather; 3 brothers; 2 sisters, and the mother of his unborn child.
Ethan and Owen Cadenbach
Ethan and Owen were fatally shot by their father, who then killed himself. The Post-Dispatch reported that the boys “shared an adult-sized casket with each other and several of their favorite superhero toys.” The family described the boys as adventurous and creative. “We spent this past summer going to Six Flags and Hurricane Harbor,” their mother said. “They liked to go on float trips, and they liked to hike in the woods. They liked chocolate milk in the morning. They had a puppy named Buddy that we just got a couple months ago, a cocker spaniel. They were just really very good, smart little boys.”
Patrick McVey, co-owner with his brother Eddie of Maggie O’Brien’s Restaurant & Irish Pub, was found slumped behind the steering wheel of his car dead from gunshot wounds. A close friend of the McVey family, said the family is overwhelmed by grief. “Devastated, absolutely devastated; not only the loss they’ve suffered, also not having a whole lot of information of what happened. It’s tearing them apart. This guy did not have an enemy in the world, that’s why we think this is more of random act, but we also think somebody had to see this. If you were ever his friend you were his friend forever, he would do anything for you he was one of the true good guys.”
George P Bush III
When interviewed on Fox 2 News, Courtney Jones, Bush’s brother, said,“He wanted to do good for himself.” He said his brother was stressed and depressed. He claims Bush was not a gangster. “George was a good person. It’s just the lifestyle that got him into the way he was,” said Jamal Gale, Bush’s brother.
On a Go Fund Me account page Rolando’s mother says, “My son was killed on December 3,2016. I want to peacefully and respectfully put him to rest and I need all the help I can to honor him. My son was killed trying to help a woman being beat by a man – he was standing up for her to save her life and in return he lost his life.” In an interview on KMOV TV she said, “I just want my baby back. I can still feel my hands around him, holding him and hugging him.” Bolden cared for his father who suffers from diabetes.
David Bewig Jr.
David Michael “Slim” Bewig Jr., from Pevely, Missouri, was shot and killed in St. Louis while in town to advertise a “birthday bash” concert. He was a prominent music promoter, representing mostly rap artists in the St. Louis area with his company Bewig ENT. The concert was to be held the week after he was killed.
Stacey Aubuchon and James Aubuchon
On December 31st, 2016 police discovered the bodies of Stacey and James Aubuchon, believed to be a murder-suicide. The couple had been married for 7 years and James had custody of a son and daughter (about 8 and 10 years of age) who lived with them. Stacey’s mother said her daughter complained of her husband being increasingly critical and that she had moved out of the home twice since August but would return home. A neighbor interviewed on KMOV TV said that she had seen problems in the past and that “He wouldn’t let her come out[side] and talk to nobody or communicate with anyone. I tried to reach out to her.” She said it is a sad ending to a life that could still be here if she had been able to reach out for help.