The lives of Maurice Harris and Randall Dwaine Robinson III ended much too soon this week. Their murders, separated by only 10 blocks and three days — and eerily similar in fashion — have rocked the student body of one of Miami-Dade County’s most historic high schools.
Both students were 17. Both were male. Both attended Liberty City’s Northwestern High School. And both were gunned down on a sidewalk long after school ended when a vehicle pulled up and the shooters got out and opened fire.
Now, a storied school that just two weeks ago jubilantly celebrated its 60th anniversary is in tatters. Its gold and blue student union lounge where students congregate, study and flirt has morphed into a chapel of grief with guidance counselors consoling students and students scribbling mournful messages on a blue banner.
“It’s really difficult to continue to teach when your reason for being here gets taken from you,” said English teacher Christina Delicata.
It was just past 6:30 p.m. Monday when Maurice Harris and another male were standing on a sidewalk outside a building near the corner of Northwest 54th Street and Third Avenue. A car pulled up, someone got out and fired several times at Harris before getting back in the vehicle and taking off. Harris was transported to Jackson Memorial Hospital and pronounced dead.
Then Thursday night at 9:45 p.m., Robinson was walking along the sidewalk at Northwest 53rd Street and Third Avenue when a car pulled up, people got out and opened fire, pumping several rounds into Robinson and leaving him dead at the scene. The car sped off in an unknown direction.
Police have not released descriptions of the vehicles or motives for the killings.
The Harris family has suffered tragedy before. Harris’ father, also named Maurice Harris, was murdered in his home in 2013 while trying to protect his 11-year-old daughter during a home invasion.
In May, another Northwestern High School student named Joewaun Coles was killed by gunfire. Coles, known as “Popcorn” to friends, was gunned down in the courtyard of his Liberty City apartment at Northwest 76th Street and 17th Avenue. Police believe he accidentally caught a bullet intended for a group of four men shooting craps nearby.
Robinson’s father, Randall Robinson II, said his son was on the way to the store when his life was taken.
“I’m asking anyone who knows anything, please, it’s not just my son’s death. It’s a whole lot of innocent young men, young women, a whole lot of innocent people that need someone to help them out,” Robinson II told Miami Herald news partner CBS4.
Miami police Detective Kenia Fallat said Friday that police hadn’t yet established a link between the two murders, but continued to examine evidence. She said it seems clear that Robinson III was targeted.
“Someone from inside the vehicle exited the vehicle and deliberately shot him,” Fallat said. “We don’t know what the motive is.”
The murders this week caught the attention of Miami-Dade Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho, who expressed his ire on Twitter, then visited students Friday.
“Another senseless and cowardly drive-by shooting claims the life of a 17-year old boy in Miami. I cannot help but sense anger in my prayer!” Carvalho tweeted.
On Friday afternoon the leader of the nation’s fourth-largest school district walked the hallways with Northwestern Principal Wallace Aristide. They visited classrooms and checked in on students and teachers.
Throughout the day, Aristide received handwritten letters from students, some offering encouragement. One used big letters to take up most of the page: “Stop the violence,” it said.
Aristide, who called the shootings “senseless,” said counselors will remain on campus for a while and the school will put together group meetings to give students space and time to grieve. He said he also plans to launch a mentoring program for some of the young men on campus.
“We have people who like to stay late at night. And it makes sense because it’s a safe haven. And sometimes, when they go home at night, tragic things happen,” the principal said.
As Carvalho turned to leave, he offered advice to a group of 10th-grade students — words the superintendent would prefer not to have to say.
“Stay safe this weekend,” he said.