By Dawn Onley
Four months after I moved to Washington, D.C. in 2007, a young, 20-something black man was gunned down in the rear of a Catholic church, directly across the street from my house. His body remained on the cold pavement under a white sheet for hours, as police conducted their investigation and news cameras strolled the block looking for potential witnesses. A few young men tried to get past police barricades to glimpse their loved one, crying at the scene and leaning on each other for support.
For months, I kept a copy of the flyer that police handed around announcing an up to $25,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the suspect(s). I would glance at the picture of Phillip Michael Thomas as he smiled from the photo and my stomach would ache for his mom. Who was he and why would someone take his life?
As a reporter, I covered quite a few homicide investigations and interviewed many grieving mothers and family members. These days were never easy and I would sometimes leave work in a solemn mood at the senselessness of it all. But this murder felt personal. It happened in my city, on my block. I never forgot it and would check the news from time to time to see if any arrests had been made. It is still unsolved.
I had the same nauseous feeling yesterday while watching the news. And the similarities to Thomas’s killing were striking.
Amari Jenkins, 21, was also shot multiple times on the grounds of a Catholic church. Several people were believed to have been involved. Friends and relatives tried to get past police barricades to see their loved one, who was covered under a white sheet.
Another young black man, dead. At the hands of other black men, in all likelihood.
Another mother crying out in pure agony. Their hearts forever broken.
The first 48 hours are crucial in any police investigation, particularly in a city with more than 1,000 unsolved homicides since 2000.
These are some perilous times. Sometimes hope seems like just another word.
What’s going on?