Not long after the sun rose Saturday morning, they buried two of their own, a mother and her son, fallen 10 days apart, mourned in one service.
He died in the streets over Labor Day weekend, killed by gunfire, multiple bullets piercing his body. She died last week six blocks away in her mother’s apartment of an apparent heart attack, wrecked by the sudden loss of her only son and the unnatural task of planning her child’s funeral.
Together, mother and slain son — Melinda Brewer, 46 and Demetrius Hyppolite, 26 — were celebrated at a double funeral at Greater Bethel A.M.E. in Overtown, their identical white caskets side by side, each crowned with cascading carnations and bows. They were memorialized in a service of prayers and song and dance and the lessons of Psalms and Corinthians.
“She had just been trying to hold on. She was so stressed about trying to give her son a proper burial and her heart just gave out,’’ says niece Amanda Brewer. “To my family, she died of a broken heart.’’
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Their story may have gone unnoticed in an urban area like Miami, where death and violence are a knowing presence in the landscape of daily life. This week alone saw one West Dade man fatally shoot a mother and daughter, kill a third woman in a horrific crash, then die of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Beyond South Florida, there were two mass shootings, one in Chicago and another in Washington, D.C. where a gunman killed 13 and injured eight at a Navy Yard.
The untold story of this Miami mother and her son is quieter, but for family members, no less painful.
A year ago, Hyppolite appeared on an episode of The First 48, the popular real life crime investigation series, about the 2012 murder of a 55-year-old man in Overtown. After the show aired, Hyppolite moved to Fort Myers to live with his girlfriend, to leave behind the unchecked storms of the city.Hyppolite was 150 miles away on a mission to start a new chapter.
“He was doing everything he could to start over,’’ says Brewer.
But he missed his family. Hyppolite, who had a brush with the law years earlier but was a maintenance worker before moving, grew up with siblings and cousins, all raised mostly in their grandmother’s two-bedroom apartment in Overtown. He missed the dinners, the friendly football smack talking. Brewer said he came home for the holiday weekend. While at a family gathering at his cousin’s home in Liberty City, Hyppolite left to pick up paper plates and cups.
He had been gone too long that Monday afternoon. The family begun to worry. What they didn’t know is he had already been shot, multiple times while standing outside his car on NW 17th Street. They believe he went back to Overtown to visit one of his friends.
Hyppolite died that same night. The case is under investigation by Miami Police.
His mother, who had moved to Miami as a child from Tallahatchie County in the Mississippi Delta, never really had time to heal from the sudden death of her youngest child. They had shared November birthdays for 20 years, five days apart, and spent many an afternoon arguing over which was the better football team, the Denver Broncos or the Oakland Raiders.
Years before, Brewer had worked as truck driver, a career shortened by a heart condition.
In the days after Hyppolite’s death, Brewer had been stressed over how to pay for his services, wanting something befitting a mother’s love, but unsure where the money would come from. She barely had an appetite and hadn’t been sleeping.
“My sister was looking for closure,’’ says Elizabeth Brewer, a younger sister. “Her son’s death had taken so much out of her.’’
She found strength in an old friendship with Carmelia Jones, who works at Richardson Funeral Home in Liberty City. They had been friends since elementary school, both attending Phyllis Wheatley. Jones knew that particular strain of heartache, having lost her own 20-year-old son a dozen years earlier. He was shot during the Thanksgiving holidays while home on college break.
“It’s hard to describe how it feels,” says Jones. She is sitting in a back room of the funeral home Friday night during the wake, struggling to articulate the strange, singular ritual of burying yours. “Her family was really there for me when I lost my son.’’
Along with Brewer’s family, Jones pitched in to help her friend plan Hyppolite’s funeral. The family selected his white single-breasted suit and the Raiders visor that he was buried in. Services were planned for Saturday, Sept. 14.
Two days before, Amanda Brewer went to pick up her aunt so they could deliver Hyppolite’s clothing to the funeral home. Instead, she found Melinda Brewer dead on the den sofa. She had passed in her sleep.
The younger Brewer, 28, mother of a two-year-old little boy named after her first-cousin Demetrius, began making plans for her aunt’s funeral.
“Doesn’t seem right that everything we are doing is times two,’’ she says her voiced hollowed by another day of planning for the dead.
Without insurance, they were already struggling to pay his burial costs, so Brewer turned to the community that had known the two for most of their lives.
She placed plastic donation jars at five stores, each with the last known snapshot the mother and son taped across the front. Everybody seems to know Hyppolite and Brewer — the mother known in these parts as “kissy-kissy” because of her unending affection and “Gladys Knight,” her favorite entertainer. Slowly, the coins became dollars until Brewer had raised about $300. She’s also banking on help from a victim assistance program for Hyppolite, but will still need more. The funeral home is also working with the family.
As the 8 a.m. hour approached on a warm September Saturday, a gaggle of family and friends and the simply curious, gathered along 8th Street and on the steps of the stately white church to witness the home going, its inexplicability and somberness multiplied by the plurality.