Miami Beach police spent most of Tuesday interviewing several men believed to have knowledge of Sunday’s murder of New York anti-gun activist Lavon Walker — then let them go.
Some of the men, police said, had ties to New York. It wasn’t clear Wednesday if police believed any of the men, detained after cops flooded a Brickell-area condo on Tuesday, were suspected of commiting the crime.
“We’re still trying to determine if they were involved,” said Miami Beach police spokesman Ernesto Rodriguez. “We may have to call some of those folks back in for interviews.”
The men — how many isn’t clear — were detained Tuesday morning when Miami and Miami Beach police flooded an apartment at 185 SE 14th Terr., blocking off the surrounding area and going door-to-door in search of “persons of interest” in Walker’s shooting.
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Police emerged with two men in handcuffs, though they said several men were detained and brought to police headquarters on Washington Avenue for questioning. Police didn’t say what led them there. But on Monday night police found the Jeep Cherokee that was believed used as the getaway car after the shooting.
Walker, 30, married and the father of two children, was shot to death around sunrise Sunday morning just outside the News Cafe on Ocean Drive and Eighth Street. Police don’t believe he was the intended target. Police believe Walker knew several people having breakfast at the News Cafe when the shooting happened.
He was shot twice and rushed to Jackson Memorial Hospital, where he was pronounced dead. Walker was visiting Miami Beach on vacation, according to friends and family.
One witness, an Uber driver who didn’t give his name, said three men pulled up in a white, newer model Jeep Cherokee, got out and opened fire. Then, the witness said, they got back into the Jeep and took off. Surveillance video captured the Jeep leaving the scene.
On Monday morning after watching the news, Pedro Alvarez realized that the white Jeep police were seeking had been returned to his rental car company near Miami International Airport. He called police and told them the Jeep was returned Sunday night with a broken light and a bullet hole.
Information obtained from the rental agency is likely what led police to the Brickell apartment building.
“We’re still trying to determine their involvement,” Rodriguez said of the men let go by police Tuesday.
After a youth surrounded by violence, Walker had allegedly turned his life around and spent five years walking the streets of crime-plagued Crown Heights in Brooklyn preaching nonviolence.
In 2010 he founded of an outreach organization called Save Our Streets — molded after similar groups in Chicago and Baltimore — that fanned out in crime-filled neighborhoods offering friendship and advice.
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, who left Save Our Streets about a year ago, was one of four original volunteers who would visit 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 reported 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.”
Tuesday night, Save Our Streets held a vigil in Walker’s in Crown Heights. He 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.”
Though Walker had not been involved with Save Our Streets for more than a year, Amy Ellenbogen, director of the Crown Heights Mediation Center where Save Our Streets operated, said it wasn’t uncommon to see Walker and his kids visiting the center over the past year.