As police, community leaders and local ministers flooded Overtown’s streets Thursday night searching for clues into the shooting death of 10-year-old Marlon Eason, those who loved and mentored him tried to make sense of the tragedy by sharing vignettes about a life cut much too short.
His school teacher said Marlon promised her a surprise when he returned from spring break. Another school administrator told how the family brought treats for Marlon’s entire class on his 10th birthday in September. And his mother explained how she got a phone call and rushed home in a panic, only to find her son unresponsive.
“I jumped on my baby and I tried to save my baby. I asked my baby does he need a bandage. And my baby couldn’t even talk to me,” said Elizabeth Ruffin. “That was something you couldn’t put a bandage on. My baby, he didn’t say nothing. My baby didn’t even get a chance to cry.”
Marlon’s life ended early Tuesday night as he chased a basketball he had been dribbling out toward the street. Shots rang out. Family on the front porch of his Northwest Fourth Court home in Overtown and people milling about nearby scattered. A bullet struck the child in the head. He died instantly.
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Police and the community were stunned by the brazen murder, left to wonder who would take the life of an innocent, reserved and respectful 10-year-old who was active in Pop Warner football and PAL basketball, and a student at nearby Center of Life Academy.
Police, who publicly say they don’t have much to go on, begged for the community’s help. Marlon’s mom believes it’s possible her son was the target, but she never explained why. A source close to the investigation said police have not ruled out that possibility and are interviewing cousins of the child who have gang affiliations.
Marlon’s death came less than two hours after two 16-year-olds were shot less than 15 blocks away in Allapattah. Richard Hallman, a football player at Booker T. Washington High School and cousin of University of Florida quarterback Treon Harris, was killed. The other teen was shot in the leg.
Police have released little information on Hallman’s death, while waiting for the other teenager to recover. A source familiar with the shooting said police are looking at the possibility that Hallman and the other 16-year-old, whom police haven’t named, were shooting at each other. Police said they don’t believe the shootings of the teens and Marlon are related.
On Thursday night, Marlon’s football buddies, as well as police, clergy and elected leaders, gathered at Overtown’s St. Agnes Episcopal Church, 1750 NW Third Ave. They fell into groups and flooded the neighborhood between Northwest 17th and 20th streets with fliers and photos of Richard and Marlon. They knocked on doors, stopped motorists in the street, passed out cards that let people give information anonymously — anything to gather clues to help solve what the city’s police chief referred to as a “heinous” crime.
“Today we are here to find out more puzzle pieces of this horrible act that took a child away from our community,” Miami Police Chief Rodolfo Llanes told the crowd of about 100 before they began their march.
“We ask you for a special warring angel to protect them all,” said Rev. Tanya Jackson.
Said Miami-Dade County Public Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho, who joined the march: “I’ve buried one child too many.”
The walk was reminiscent of one in January inside the Liberty Square housing project just a few miles to the north. Gunfire racked that community last year claiming dozens of victims. Then, Miami Commissioner Keon Hardemon, who went door-to-door in the neighborhood where he grew up, tried to persuade federal authorities to use the Patriot Act as a tool to charge the inner-city shooters. He still refers to them as terrorists.
Hardemon, who represents the district, wasn’t at Thursday’s event. Also absent were Marlon’s family members.
By all accounts, Marlon was a reserved and polite child who played football for the Overtown Tornadoes of the Greater Miami Pop Warner Football League, and basketball with the Miami police department’s Police Athletic League. As an only child, friends and family said, he was doted on by his mother and grandmother Dorothy Ruffin, who made certain the child’s needs were more than met. They say he did well in school. Rarely was he out on the street alone.
Sabrina Jackson, Marlon’s teacher at Center of Life recalled Thursday a surprise the 10-year-old promised to bring her when he returned from spring break. She said classmates and their parents keep calling to ask her questions — and she has no answers.
“Right now, it’s kind of hard for me,” Jackson said, tears streaming down her cheeks. “He was just 10. I used to call him my little husband, because you know how a husband and wife have a little back and forth.”
Jackson said Marlon struggled at school at first, but she sat him right next to her where she could keep an eye on him, and pushed him hard. She said the child soon turned a corner. Recently, Jackson said, Marlon thanked her. When she asked him why, he told her, “Because you never gave up on me.”
School administrator Rushae Sweeting said that for Marlon’s 10th birthday last September, his family brought cake, chicken and Chinese rice for the entire school.
“They were so helpful," she said. “They did whatever they could to help not only Marlon, but to help the school also.’’
Center of Life is a small school with 95 students in grades two through 12. Marlon was in a class of only 11. Sweeting recalled several events Marlon took part in, from career day to a field-day event in which his team won the egg race running through an obstacle course with an egg on a spoon.
“I know it's going to be hard, especially for the elementary students who were his friends and neighbors," Sweeting said. “The memories are just so vivid.”
Classmate Cormury Butts, 9, said Marlon was known for sharp clothes and his basketball skills. He said his favorite video game was Grand Theft Auto.
Cormury’s 13-year-old sister, Sacory Butts, said Marlon was a jokester who made sure to greet her with a hello every morning.
“He was my little boyfriend at school,” she joked.