At the height of a teary, spiritually rousing funeral service on Saturday afternoon, mourners of a 70-year-old minister and her grandson — both brutally murdered in Miami Gardens a week and a half ago — got some unexpected good news.
“I’ve just been notified — they caught the person,” announced Pastor Virgil Walker, interrupting his eulogy.
Many in the crowd of several hundred gathered at the Antioch Missionary Baptist Church of Miami Gardens cheered and lifted their arms. They’d been waiting for answers since Rev. Annette O. Anderson and her 20-year-old grandson, Tyrone Lenard Walker Jr., were found killed in her home on July 16.
As it turned out, the celebration was premature.
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Minutes later, Miami Gardens Mayor Oliver Gilbert walked on stage and whispered in the pastor’s ear.
“They didn’t apprehend them yet, but they know who they are,” declared Walker, a relative of the deceased. More muted cheers ensued.
Despite the announcement, authorities have not named or detained any suspects, according to Miami Gardens Police Detective Michael Wright.
“It’s a very trying time for the family, and I don’t know why they would say that. I’m not a psychologist,” Wright said. “What we’re doing is monitoring this case very closely.”
Police have received numerous leads and are continuing to investigate, according to Wright.
The discrepancy is one of many unanswered questions plaguing friends, family and the community where Anderson was a fixture for more than 50 years. She and her grandson were bound, gagged and shot “execution-style” in her yellow house on Northwest 207th Street, according to relatives. The exact cause of death has not been confirmed by authorities.
“What possible motive could a person have to execute a 70-year-old woman?” asked Walker, who lives a few houses away from Anderson and is the brother of her son-in-law. “She was an individual that was always caring, always helping people. She absolutely didn’t cause any issues for anyone at all. It’s demonic the way that she died. It’s absolutely crazy.”
Police said they could not confirm whether there were signs of forced entry or robbery. Walker said he is convinced that Anderson knew the attacker because she could see through the front door.
At Saturday’s funeral, attendees wiped away tears with handkerchiefs even before the service started. One white and one baby blue casket were brought in from hearses drawn by white horses. A photo slideshow of grandmother and grandson at various ages beamed from the wall.
Mayor Gilbert, who said Anderson was an “old friend,” spoke on behalf of the city.
“My heart is broken too,” he said. “She was an inspiration to our community and left an indelible mark on the city. We will not remember her by how she was taken; we will remember her by how she lived.”
Flanked by all five Miami Gardens city council members, he recalled that Anderson had brought him water when he was campaigning and used to stop him in City Hall and offer him prayers.
Representatives from the Miami-Dade Board of County Commissioners and the North County Citizen’s Association, where Anderson was former secretary, also honored her.
Friends and relatives remembered Anderson as a deeply spiritual woman and quiet, yet active, presence in her community. Born in Georgia, Anderson spent 30 years working as a therapist in a state-run mental health institution in Miami, according to Walker. She had a bachelor’s degree from Jacksonville Theological Seminary and last January received a Master of Theology from the Practical Christianity Institute of Evangelism in California. The school also awarded her a posthumous doctoral degree in theology.
Anderson was ordained as a minister at Jesus People Ministries Church International in Miami Gardens about a decade ago. For the past two years, she hosted Bible study in her home every Tuesday and was assistant pastor at Breakthrough Deliverance and Healing Prayer Ministries. As head of the group’s Community Action Committee, she was concerned about addressing escalating crime in the neighborhood.
“She was such a quiet, humble person,” said head pastor Dr. E. Gail Brown, who first met Anderson more than 20 years ago. “It’s just so devastating to know someone would do that to a person so innocent.”
Anderson cared for frail elders in the community, helping them shop for groceries, taking them on walks and sometimes spending all night with them in the hospital. Local youth hid their liquor and cigars when she walked past. When someone needed help with a job application, getting a child to school or putting food on the table, Anderson was quick to lend a hand, relatives and neighbors recalled.
When Anderson missed the regular walks last Sunday and Monday, one of her elderly friends called the police, Walker said.
Anderson was very close to the grandson who came to live with her three months ago, according to Brown. Known as “TJ,” he moved to Miami from Jacksonville to study electrical engineering at ITT Technical Institute. He paid the bills by working as a cook at Burger King and went to church with his grandmother every Sunday.
“He wasn’t the kid that partied and did that kind of stuff. He was kind, sweet, helpful,” said his aunt, Anita Walker Thomas.
At 6-foot-3 and 300 pounds, TJ might have had a promising career playing football. He joined Orange Park High School’s varsity team his freshman year and had interest from recruiters at local universities.
But he decided to quit the sport.
“He didn’t want to hurt anyone,” his uncle recalled.
After graduating from high school in 2011, Walker worked in a Jacksonville nursing home. He was a diehard Miami Hurricanes fan, loved local rapper Ice Berg and easily made people laugh, said his friend Kendrea Woods.
“He just wanted to be successful, have a family. I guess the quote-unquote American Dream,” Woods said.
She spoke to Walker the day before he died and got the news by seeing “RIP TJ” on Twitter.
“I didn’t believe it,” she said. “I just want to ask the person — why?”
“I don’t think TJ understood the impact he had. He touched a lot of people without noticing,” she added.
In the journal Walker kept through his childhood and teenage years, he noted that he wanted to look back in 10 years and see the difference he’d made. One of the three people who inspired him most, he wrote, was his grandmother.
Walker had three teenaged sisters, whom his parents had adopted as little girls. His mother, Carolyn Walker — Anderson’s daughter — is a registered nurse in Jacksonville, and his father is a retired U.S. Army Ranger. Anderson also had a son, Willie Harris, Jr.
“We’re going to miss her, but we know where she is,” said Anderson’s friend Ernestine Fox when she addressed those assembled. “She’s all right.”
“She is,” they murmured. “She is.”