The morning after they found the Jeep Cherokee believed to be the getaway vehicle in Sunday’s murder of a New York tourist, Miami Beach police descended on a Brickell-area condominium and took several people into custody.
At least two men were being held and questioned at Miami Beach police headquarters Tuesday afternoon in the early Sunday morning shooting death of Lavon Walker, a reformed Brooklyn gang member turned anti-violence activist who was vacationing in Miami Beach.
“We’re in the process of detaining possible persons of interest,” said Miami Beach police spokesman Ernesto Rodriguez.
By Wednesday morning police had released all of the detained, but said the investigation was continuing.
On Tuesday morning, police swarmed the apartment building at 1845 SE 14th Terr. Helicopters buzzed overhead and crime scene tape kept residents at bay. Eventually, two men were seen coming out of the building in handcuffs.
Several of those detained cooperated with police, Rodriguez said. Investigators continued their search at the Brickell-area condo well into Tuesday afternoon.
Police wouldn’t say what led them to the Miami apartment building. But it’s likely that information gathered from the Northwest Miami-Dade rental car agency where the Jeep Cherokee was recovered helped them find the “persons of interest.”
The company’s owner, Pedro Alvarez, told Miami Herald news partner CBS4 that the white, newer model Jeep was rented to three men from New York on Friday night. He said that when the car was returned it had a bullet hole and a broken light, so he called police. As of 2:15 p.m. Tuesday, there were no arrests.
Beach police, with the aid of surveillance video from Miami Beach and Alvarez’s call, found the vehicle Monday night but kept that information to themselves, fearing the men involved in Walker’s death would flee the area.
Walker, 30, the father of two children, was shot to death just outside the News Cafe on Miami Beach at 7 a.m. Sunday. Police don’t believe he was the target, but think he may have been with a group of rap artists or DJs who were the intended victims.
He was shot twice by three men who, according to a witness, jumped back into a white Cherokee, then fled. No one else was injured.
Walker, who spent years walking the streets of crime-plagued Crown Heights in Brooklyn preaching nonviolence, was on vacation, remembering the anniversary of a family member who had been killed.
During an interview in 2011 on a New York cable TV program called “Inside City Hall,” Walker told of how he was using his criminal past to help kids avoid the violence that dominated his youth.
“My mind-set was changed. I’m out there to let them know their mind-set can be changed, too,” Walker told the host.
Walker was a former outreach worker and founding member of an organization called Save Our Streets. The group is modeled after similar groups in Chicago and Baltimore. Volunteers dedicated to reducing gun violence fan out in crime-plagued neighborhoods offering friendship and advice.
“It was the anniversary of a family member’s death. He was trying to get away for a little while,” said Amy Ellenbogen, director of the Crown Heights Mediation Center, where Walker used to work.
Walker was known well in the Crown Heights neighborhood where he spent five years helping mostly troubled youth. Save Our Streets is an offshoot of the Crown Heights Mediation Center and was formed in 2010.
Back then, he was one of four volunteers who would go to areas where there had been clusters of shootings. The group was in part funded with money from the U.S. Department of Justice.
“We find out what their needs are, anything that’s going to gear them or shift them to a different mentality toward gun violence,” he told The New York Times in 2010. “We become like their bigger brothers, even closer than their fathers.”
In 2014, the Al Jazeera News Network said Walker’s Save Our Streets crew was reducing gun violence in Brooklyn. Though New York City’s murder rate had dropped to its lowest total in a half century, Brooklyn remained the bloodiest borough, responsible for 44 percent of the city’s murders.
Still, Brooklyn’s numbers were down overall. Walker told the news network it was in part because he was passing along what he learned from his youth, when, “I was out here every day sellin’ drugs, robbing cars, robbing stores, gang-bangin’, hanging with the crew. I was out here jumping people, fighting people, you know, whatever we had to do.”
A review of Walker’s criminal history in New York by the Miami Herald on Monday turned up nothing, his youth records possibly sealed. Al Jazeera ran the story with the headline, “Ex-cons campaign against violence, and it’s working.”
Walker left Save Our Streets a little more than a year ago, Ellenbogen said. She wasn’t certain exactly why he departed, but said Walker would often come around and visit with his children.
Save Our Streets planned a vigil in Walker’s honor Tuesday night in Crown Heights. Walker was remembered on the agency’s website as someone who had turned his life around and was attempting to save others.
“Today we are remembering Lavon “Boo” Walker, founding member of Save Our Streets and beloved father, husband, friend, community member and youth minister,” a note on the SOS website said. “Lavon dedicated his life to working for peace and uplifting communities.”
Andrea Wilmer, a preacher from New York who grew close to Walker, used Facebook to express her sorrow. She said she was blessed to give birth to two girls, but that God gave her a son.
“Blood could not make us closer. Lavon, his wife Marilyn and children are my immediate family. Lavon was my boy,” Wilmer said. “We shared so much. Everyone said I took up for him. This is so unreal. My heart is broken. This is so overwhelming. Please pray for his entire family.”
Miami Herald staff writer David J. Neal contributed to this report.