John Ruch and Jeremy C. Fox
No motive, no suspect; second victim wounded
JACKSON SQ.—A 14-year-old Roxbury boy was shot to death on a Southwest Corridor Park basketball court on May 8 while on his way to buy Mother’s Day presents. The broad-daylight, apparently random killing of Jaewon Martin—a Highland Park honor student—has sparked outrage everywhere from local streets to the Governor’s Office.
A 16-year-old Roxbury boy was also wounded in the attack by an unknown single gunman, according to that boy’s mother, who said the killer appeared ready to shoot two nearby girls as well before they ran away.
Martin’s aunt, Ruby Steele-Morris, at a meeting of the JP Trauma Team this week recalled Martin’s last words to his grandmother: “‘I’m going to go shoot a couple of hoops, and then I’m going to buy you and Mom something for Mother’s Day. I’ll be back in a couple of hours.’”
“A couple of hours never happened, because we got a phone call and Jaewon was no more,” she said.
The surviving victim—whose name the Gazette is withholding due to his age and safety concerns—gave a chilling account of the shooting, as told by his mother Tamara at the May 10 JP Trauma Team meeting.
Martin and his friend, the surviving victim, were hanging out at the basketball court next to the Jackson Square T Station and the Bromley-Heath housing development around 3:30 p.m., waiting for Tamara’s youngest son to arrive with money for purchasing Mother’s Day gifts at a Cambridge mall.
“They had stopped on the basketball court and they were wasting time talking to two girls when the guy walked up on them and just started shooting,” Tamara said. “Jaewon, he tried to run, and when my son saw him collapse, that’s when he turned around and the guy had the gun on him and started shooting him. Then when my son ran, [the gunman] turned around and tried to shoot the girls, but they ran away.”
Tamara said her son was able to look down the barrel of the gun before the gunman shot him. The bullet grazed his chest, tearing it open, and pierced his arm, she said.
Both Martin and the surviving victim have reputations as good kids with no known gang involvement, according to authorities.
A Gazette correspondent met the surviving victim three weeks before the shooting at a hip-hop concert at the nearby Bromley-Heath housing development, where he appeared to be good-natured and friendly to a group of younger children. That victim marked his 17th birthday this week while recovering from his gunshot wounds.
Steele-Morris recalled Martin as “a giving spirit, a very kind spirit” who was devoted to his family.
“His grandmother was his sunshine, his moon and his stars,” she said. “If he knew that she had a hard day at work, when she came home, she didn’t have to worry because Jaewon would have cooked or maybe made her a cake to surprise her.”
Martin, who had a talent for math, was set to graduate from eighth grade this year in a few weeks and hoped to get into a good high school and go on to college.
Gov. Deval Patrick took personal interest in the killing, meeting at least twice with Martin’s family. In comments at a press conference this week, a transcript of which was provided to the Gazette by the Governor’s Office, Patrick called for stronger gun control laws.
“I spoke to Mrs. Martin, whose son was the 14-year-old killed on the streets this weekend,” Patrick said. “What I said to her is something I think we’re all feeling. It’s not the order of things that you bury your own child—that a child who is doing right and is playing on the streets would be the victim of a random gunshot is not acceptable.
“And there are a lot of causes for this, and a lot of solutions,” Patrick continued. “But certainly one of them is controlling the flow of guns.”
While the motive behind Martin’s killing is unknown, the crime has similarities with the infamous 2007 shooting death of a 13-year-old Mission Hill boy in Bromley-Heath. Prosecutors say that killing was a case of mistaken identity, with the boy a victim of turf wars between some youths in Bromley-Heath and the Academy Homes I/New Academy Estates developments on the other side of Columbus Avenue. Two young men from New Academy are scheduled to stand trial on murder charges next month in that 2007 case.
Tamara suggested that similar forces were at work in that crime.
“It’s just some gang stuff that’s going on, and this [gunman], I guess he feels as though he’s more of a man just to shoot anybody he sees,” she said at the JP Trauma Team meeting. “You don’t know kids from gangbangers? It’s crazy. I want to pack my kid and get out of here.”
Jackson Square has been the scene of roughly two major shooting incidents a year for the past few years. That includes the 2008 killing of a 17-year-old Bromley-Heath boy in the development, and the killing early this year of a Roxbury man between the development and the T station.
One result of that violence was the formation of the JP Trauma Team. Formally known as the Jamaica Plain Violence Intervention and Prevention Collaborative, the group is a 14-agency coalition that uses experts and trained community members to counsel survivors and community members in the wake of violent crime.
The Bromley-Heath Tenant Management Corporation (TMC) called an emergency meeting of the JP Trauma Team on May 10 at the housing development to advise the families of the May 8 shooting victims and give them a chance to speak to the media, including the Gazette. The surviving victim has extended family living in Bromley-Heath, but the JP Trauma Team is designed to help everyone in the area, including in the nearby Roxbury area where the victims lived.
The outreach was also part of TMC’s proactive response to the violence.
“Whatever is necessary to keep our communities vibrant and doing the things that we do every day is what we’re going to do,” said TMC Executive Director Mildred Hailey. “We’re going to support the families, we’re going to support the community, and we’re going to support our youth.”
That included boosting programming and extending the hours at Bromley-Heath’s Anna Mae Cole Community Center from Tuesday through today. The effort is intended to give kids safe recreational options and as a show of community force.
“We ask that EVERYONE come out to support and show Boston that Bromley-Heath is a safe place to live,” said a flyer announcing the effort. “Bring your whole family and let’s spend the evenings together.”
Local state Rep. Jeffrey Sánchez told the Gazette that he agrees that the area should not be defined by its relatively rare violent events.
“There are hundreds of kids [who] play at that court every single week,” he noted.
At the same time, there is an awareness in the community about the presence of guns and other weapons. About six hours before the May 8 killing, according to a BPD report, a witness approached police officers at the Jackson Square T Station and said that there is a youth who hangs out in front of the station and “always carries a gun. No one will tell on him. I’m sick and tired of this…Somebody’s going to get killed.”
Officers searched the area and arrested a 19-year-old Everett man after they allegedly found him with a kitchen knife tucked into the waistband of his pants, but with no gun.
The shooting actually took place on the state-owned Southwest Corridor Park, which runs along the MBTA’s Orange Line and has had its own rare, bloody crimes.
The May 8 incident was the second killing in two years on a Southwest Corridor basketball court in Jamaica Plain. A young Dorchester man was shot to death in broad daylight on Patriots’ Day, 2008 on a court outside the Stony Brook T Station.
“I’m deeply saddened about [the May 8 killing]. This one looks like it was out of nowhere,” said Jan Hunkel, president of the Parkland Management Advisory Committee (PMAC), a community group that works with the state on Southwest Corridor operations.
Hunkel added that she used to tutor children at Martin’s Roxbury school, though she is not sure whether he was among her students.
While the killing is shocking, “Crime has been down considerably in the entire park for months now,” and is at its lowest level in at least two years, she said.
The Southwest Corridor is a 5-mile-long park that runs through various police jurisdictions, which has often led to confusion about responses to crimes in the park. PMAC is working on a proposal to install mile markers in the park, so that people reporting crimes to 911 could specify where they are. It appears that there was no confusion in police response to the May 8 crime.
The efforts of such groups as the TMC and PMAC only highlight the sense of frustration with youth violence, Sánchez said after wondering aloud what else officials can do.
“We have activism in the neighborhood and leaders are engaged,” he said.
Sánchez was left expressing the pointlessness of the crime, calling the killer a “coward.”
“This was a star kid,” he said of Martin.
An even bigger frustration right now is the lack of any arrests in the cases. No description of the gunman has been released. Suffolk County District Attorney Dan Conley pleaded for tips from the public in a press statement this week.
Steele-Morris, Martin’s aunt, made a similar and emotional plea at the JP Trauma Team meeting.
“It’s a disgrace that people will not stand up and be men and women of integrity and say what it is that they have seen happen,” she said. “Because someone saw, and someone knows who did this to Jaewon.”
Anyone with information about the shooting can contact the Boston Police Department Homicide Unit at 617-343-4470 or anonymously by calling 1-800-494-8477 or by texting the word “TIP” to 27463.
Anyone who needs counseling from experiencing violent crime can contact the JP Trauma Team through any of the local community health centers, including Brookside, Dimock, Martha Eliot and Southern Jamaica Plain.