Miami-Dade County

Anger, grief grip Liberty City neighborhood after 15-year-old killed in shooting

Onlookers gather near a makeshift memorial where a 15-year-old Miami Northwestern Senior High freshman was shot dead and four others were wounded at Northwest 75th Street and 16th Avenue Monday night.
Onlookers gather near a makeshift memorial where a 15-year-old Miami Northwestern Senior High freshman was shot dead and four others were wounded at Northwest 75th Street and 16th Avenue Monday night. For The Miami Herald

Josephine Cameron, her small Liberty City apartment filled with family members and food, points to a picture of her grandson wearing a white tuxedo. She mentions how he loved football, oh, so much.

“But he wasn’t allowed to bring girls into my house. For what? Education is much more important,” says Cameron, 70, and known simply to most around her Model City housing complex as Miss Josephine.

Joewuan Coles, 15, a Northwestern Senior High student and the grandson Cameron raised since he was 3, was killed Monday night, caught in the gunfire of a group of men playing craps in the courtyard of a Liberty City apartment complex.

Police and witnesses said two men wearing black outfits — and possibly masks — parked their car, then approached on foot from the southeast and fired off dozens of rounds from high-powered rifles.

Four others between the ages of 22 and 28 were injured and taken to area hospitals.

The walls of the Model City Housing Complex at Northwest 76th Street and 17th Avenue were filled with pockmarked bullet holes. Police have released little information on the shooting other than to say Joewaun was not the target. The complex, with grassy courtyards, is monitored by surveillance video. It was unclear Tuesday if the system worked properly.

Joewuan, a teenager who grew up playing Pop Warner football and longed to play for Northwestern’s storied football team, was to begin a summer job Monday at community activist Eric Thompson’s Liberty City Economic Development Corp. He was enrolled in a job training program and was going to earn $8 an hour learning how to run a nonprofit.

“I was going to teach him to do what I do,” Thompson said Tuesday as he helped grieving family members out of the blistering sun and offered a tent to keep them covered. Cameron said her grandson needed to bring his grades up before playing football.

Joewuan’s death, like the shooting of several young adults and children over the past year, further stunned and angered a community that has suffered through more than its share of violence.

In December, 3-year-old Ayanna Daniels was caught in a cross-fire while playing outside her Liberty City apartment. She survived.

But Marlon Eason, 10, and Richard Hallman, 16, did not. They were shot and killed in April only hours apart in separate shootings about a mile from each other in the Overtown area. Richard played football at Booker T. Washington Senior High.

“A lot of mothers are going through the pain of losing children like this,” said the Rev. W. Edward Mitchell as he walked through the Model City housing complex Tuesday morning.

“It’s another life,” he said. “One is too many.”

The scene Tuesday around the Model City complex was sad, angry and active.

Some of Joewuan’s friends grieved. Others were outraged and swore revenge.

Family members visited the site where Joewuan was gunned down. Community activists strode about warning kids not to avenge the death. And dozens — including Joewuan’s sister Reene and her son — visited a makeshift memorial outside Apartment 7575, where teddy bears sat next to candles, and a giant T-shirt was signed in honor of the teen known around the neighborhood as “Popcorn.”

“RIP Popcorn, we love you,” read one note. “Long live PC,” read another.

Mitchell, the local pastor, invited several women to a Thursday gathering at Zion Hope Church. He said the meeting was for MOMS — Mothers of Murdered Siblings.

“We did not anticipate another one of these,” he said, explaining how the event was planned in advance of Joewuan’s death.

Others in the apartment complex refused to give their name out of fear of retaliation. One man who spoke said he and his wife have nine children. They lost a 10th, he said.

“The only concern I have is for my kids and wife,” he said, standing outside his apartment. “The kid didn’t deserve that. No one deserves to live like this. As a parent it makes you angry.”

No one was angrier than Alvita Phillips, a community organizer and the office manager at Thompson’s community center. At one point Phillips lectured more than a half-dozen of Joewuan’s friends as they leaned against a wall behind the memorial site. She warned repeatedly that revenge wasn’t the answer.

“Y’all don’t go looking for nothin’. Stay focused on the area around you,” Phillips said, her anger rising. “Let the POPO [slang for police] handle it.

“Just don’t go out there and get yourself hurt.”