Devin’s mother, Marita, wanted to be the one to close her son’s casket. She didn’t want someone from the funeral home doing it.
“Go sit down,” she told Devin’s grandmother. Thousands had gathered for the service, including DC mayor Anthony Williams and police chief Charles Ramsey. “I need to do this by myself.”
Marita was used to hearing from her son two or three times a day. A friend had told her once that she’d never seen a teenager call his mother as often as Devin did.
“What you doing?” he would ask on the phone.
“Same thing I was doing two hours ago,” Marita would say. “Boy, why don’t you go have fun?”
She always knew where he was. The one time he tried to sneak out, she got out of bed, walked to the party she knew he had gone to, and banged on the door.
“Dang, Ma,” Devin said. “How’d you find me?”
She was there for her son’s last breaths at Howard University Hospital, and she was going to be the last person to lay eyes on him. Some people got shot ten times and survived; her son had taken one bullet and died. She told herself God had better plans for him.
She got angry when she heard someone say Devin was in the wrong place at the wrong time. He was at school, she thought.
Friends of Devin’s had told Marita what happened in the parking lot that day. She knew that the young man who shot her son wasn’t aiming for him and that he had turned himself in. She also knew that one of Devin’s best friends was serving time at the Oak Hill Youth Center, where Erik was being held. The facility, since closed, had a reputation for violence.
That boy is not safe there, she thought. Someone is going to kill him for what he did to Devin.
Marita called Reverend Anthony Motley, a family friend who volunteered at Oak Hill, and asked him to get Erik into isolation. She didn’t want Erik’s mother to go through what she’d been through. One dead child was enough.
A t the Oak Hill Youth Center, Erik stood on his bed to talk to other inmates through the vents. Being in isolation meant about 20 hours a day in his room.
For a while, Erik believed that the bullet that hit Devin, ricocheting inside his chest and tearing through his aorta, came from someone else’s gun. He was sure the guys he’d fired at had shot back. He thought he’d heard their gunshots.
“They were saying I killed somebody,” he says. “I didn’t want to accept that.”
He had spent three months in a juvenile facility in Baltimore when he was 13 after he and some friends filled a minivan with stolen dirt bikes. But the place in Baltimore seemed like summer camp compared with Oak Hill. Now 15, he was small for his age. The kids here knew what he was accused of doing and taunted him during bus trips to court. When his mother came to visit, she noticed bald spots on his head. His hair was falling out.
He hadn’t been at Oak Hill long when Reverend Motley came to see him. Motley, who had known Devin since he was seven, practiced redemption ministry, which meant everybody got second and third chances. He had suggested to Marita that she reconcile with Erik and his family, an idea she didn’t resist.
An officer led Erik into a room where Reverend Motley was waiting.
You’re just a kid, Motley thought. How could you do something like this?
“Devin was like my grandson,” he told Erik. “Now I have to come and face his killer. How do you think that makes me feel?”
Motley talked to Erik about accepting God into his life. Erik didn’t say much—he listened—and Motley saw tears in his eyes.
T here was a point during Erik’s trial in March 2004, five months after the shooting, when the gravity of what he was accused of hit him. He was on trial for first-degree murder.
“His mother was on one side, my mother was on the other side, but he was nowhere around,” Erik says. “I had to come outside of myself and realize: Her son is no longer here.”
In court, where Erik was tried as a juvenile, his mother and grandmother sat behind him every day. Michele would go to work in the morning and leave early for the trial, hoping coworkers wouldn’t figure out where she was going. She stopped answering her phone and hid from television reporters.
“Just leave me alone,” she’d tell them. “Somebody’s child has died.”
She exchanged looks with Devin’s mother in the courtroom, but the two didn’t speak. Marita was angry, but not at Michele.
It’s not her fault, she’d think. She didn’t shoot my son.
She was mad at whoever had handed Erik the gun, a person whose identity she’d never know.
“Every child out here that gets killed with a gun—killed by another child—some adult is responsible for that,” she says. “Whether they sold it to him, gave it to him, or told him to hold it. Why would you give a 14-year-old child a gun?”
Marita moved from her home because she couldn’t bear to see Devin’s bedroom, where friends had left messages on the walls and ceiling. She became an advisory neighborhood commissioner and helped reopen a recreation center that had been closed for a decade.
“There’s nothing for kids to do,” she says. She’d relied on places like that when she was a child. She saw violence in her Southwest DC neighborhood—a friend was killed in an alley after playing cards at her house in junior high—but she always had somewhere to go after school.
“I was in the rec center till it closed at 8, then we was in the house stimulating our minds,” she says. “Kids don’t do that no more.”