Dorothy Ruffin clutched her grandson close to her chest. Tears welled in her eyes. She had just learned police captured two teens they say are responsible for the March murder of another grandchild.
“I want to look them dead in the eye, whoever they are, and ask them, ‘Why did you pull that trigger and take my baby’s dreams away from him?’ ” Ruffin said.
Just a few steps away on the Ruffin family’s front porch, a rock props up a small basketball hoop where Marlon Eason, 10, spent untold hours taking jump shots. Basketball was his favorite sport. He took that ball with him almost everywhere he went.
“I’m leaving that there,” Ruffin said of the hoop. “I’m keeping my baby’s dream alive.”
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Late Friday night, more than four months after the shooting deaths of Eason and Richard Hallman, 16, shook Overtown to its core, police arrested two neighborhood teenagers and charged them with Eason’s murder. The child was shot in the head on the front walkway of his home while chasing the ball after an errant jump shot.
Less than two hours earlier and a mile away, Hallman lost a gunfight in Allapattah. Though no one has been charged with his murder, police connected the two scenes through shell casings they believe came from the same weapon.
In coordinated raids Friday night, one at a home and the other at a bus depot, police captured Khalib Newkirk, 15, who goes by the street name “K-Hound,” and Ernest Rowell, 18, who is also known as “Woo.” After several hours of questioning at police headquarters, Rowell was charged with first-degree murder, Newkirk with second-degree murder.
Newkirk was found Friday night in his Overtown home. Rowell was followed by police on a Greyhound bus that had just arrived from Arkansas. Rowell, unaware he was being monitored, was approached by officers as the bus arrived in Miami, said Miami police Capt. Daniel Kerr.
The late March shooting deaths of Marlon and Hallman stirred a community already plagued by gun violence into action. Local leaders, police and residents walked the streets, going door-to-door in search of any information. Gatherings were held at churches and in town halls.
The murders sparked especially intense outrage in a community that too often is forced to bury their young because of gun violence.
More than 1,000 people showed up the night before Easter for Marlon and Hallman’s funerals. They were buried after separate services at the same North Miami-Dade church. The teen and the child, not friends in life, are now joined forever in death.
Funeral mourners wore T-shirts decrying the death of young children and voiced concern over a lack of respect and love in some of the city’s most dangerous neighborhoods. The reverend overseeing the service announced the donation of eight burial plots — for future victims of street violence.
Marlon’s casket was bright yellow, and covered in floral arrangements, one depicting his favorite superhero, Spider-Man, another of a basketball swishing through a net. Hallman’s friends spent almost an hour passing his casket, kissing him on the cheek, some collapsing.
“Growing up in the ’hood, once upon a time, we almost raised one another,” Rev. Dwayne Bennett Sr. said. Now, “we’re being condemned. We’re being beaten down.”
Marlon, a popular Dunbar Elementary School student, was killed as family members sat nearby and watched in horror. Hallman, a Booker T. Washington High School football player and cousin of Florida Gators quarterback Treon Harris, was gunned down on a sidewalk in Allapattah during what police believe was a fight over drugs.
Police believe Hallman’s friends watched the shooter jump into a vehicle that was well known in the area, where drug sales were common.
Hallman’s friends watched out for the car, police said. And about 90 minutes later they spotted the car as it was making its way along Overtown’s Northwest Fourth Court, in front of Marlon’s home. As the car was moving, several shots were fired. They missed the car but accidentally struck Marlon.
Investigators pieced the case together through eye witnesses and admissions the teens made to others.
The key evidence surfaced in April when Newkirk was arrested for trespassing and carrying a concealed weapon. When he spotted police, Newkirk took the gun from his pocket and hurled it onto the roof of a building, authorities said. Once seized, investigators matched casings found at both homicide scenes.
Investigators believe Hallman was involved in the Allapattah shooting, and after he was mortally wounded, somebody took his gun and later gave them to his two friends, Newkirk and Rowell. That pistol was later used to fire at the car in front of Marlon’s home.
State records show Rowell had been arrested earlier, in March 2013 for grand-theft auto, and again for the same crime in August 2014. Because Rowell was a juvenile at the time, the outcomes of the cases are not public record.
Newkirk, records show, was arrested for grand-theft auto in July 2014.
Police coordinated the arrests Friday to avoid the suspects tipping each other off. They were taken into custody by Miami’s Fugitive Apprehension Team, a squad consisting of a sergeant and five officers who generally work sensitive cases.
On Saturday morning, as word spread of the arrests, Marlon’s neighborhood was quiet. The gate leading to home’s front porch has become a tribute to the child’s memory. It rests adorned with stuffed toys of his favorite cartoon characters and superheroes.
Grandma Ruffin wore a white shirt with an orange basketball bearing Marlon wearing his number 45 as he swished a ball through a hoop. The T-shirts were made in support of the Marlon Eason Jr. Violence Awareness and Prevention Foundation, a group created by Marlon’s uncle Richard Ruffin, not long after the family lost the little boy.
“Now we have a face to place behind the gun, and we can start to move on from March 24,” Richard Ruffin said. “ But it’s not closure. It’s justice.”
Richard Ruffin said he recognized the suspects’ street names as boys from the neighborhood.
“We need the gang culture off the streets,” he said.