On the morning of Oct. 12, a homeless man was pushing a shopping cart down Lincoln Street in Highland Park. He came upon a body, lying near the sidewalk. It was a slender body, tall, athletic, only a teen, wrapped in two T-shirts, jeans and black athletic shoes. The homeless man took a better look. Maybe it was sleeping. Then he backed away. There was a bullet hole in the rear of the teen’s head and another in the front where the bullet exited — police call that a “through and through” — and this body wasn’t sleeping and it wasn’t waking up, not that morning, not ever.
Kill your children, kill your city. Jerome Parker was an honor student at Highland Park High School, a standout shooting guard on the basketball team, a 15-year-old who began each day with cereal and cartoons and a hugged prayer with his mother and younger brother, asking the Lord “for a good day.”
They could have asked to survive it.
Instead, Jerome Parker was last seen leaving his Detroit home after school on Monday, Oct. 11. And to date, no one seems to know what happened next, where he went, whom he went with, or how his head was blown off with the indifference of an execution.
“I call the detective regularly and ask if there’s any news,” says Ronda Scott, Jerome’s mother. “He says they’re waiting on phone records. I keep wondering if there was some mistake. I don’t know. I just don’t know.”
It has been two months.
A salad arrives at the lunch table, but Ronda Scott does not lift her fork. This is a tony restaurant near where she works, in high-rent downtown Birmingham, less than 10 miles but light-years from her modest Detroit neighborhood. The suburbs often sit ignorant of the city; still, it is hard to believe this graceful, soft-spoken woman, who works as an operations analyst in the shadow of million-dollar mansions, goes home every evening to the ghost of a murdered child.
“He visits me sometimes,” she says. “I didn’t used to believe in that stuff. But I do now. The day they found his body, that night, I was in bed, around 3 a.m., and I felt a breath of air on my neck. Jerome used to do that, blow his breath on my neck and say, ‘I love you, Mom.’ And I’d laugh and say, ‘I love you, too, now quit blowing on my neck.’
“But when he did it, it was always warm. This breath was cold.”
She pauses, deciding whether to continue. “Another night, 23 days after he died, I fell into a half-sleep looking at the TV. It was like I was paralyzed, I couldn’t move. And I heard him yelling, ‘I love you, Mommy; I miss you, Mommy.’ And I looked over and he was laying up on a little cloud. And he was looking sad. And I was trying to tell him, ‘Don’t be sad, Jerome, don’t let your soul roam, just rest.’ And I asked him, ‘Jerome, who did this to you?’ And he wouldn’t answer. He just looked down at the ground. But when I looked down, all I saw was the floor.”
Before someone put a bullet in his head, Jerome Parker was a basketball player, a good one, a 6-foot-1 standout on the undefeated freshman team at Highland Park High — the same school his mother attended in the ’80s. This year, Jerome was set to move up to varsity, a strong step for a sophomore. He had good skills overall, ball-handling, passing, but mostly, he was a shooter. Last year, in a close game against Dearborn Fordson, he “took over,” according to his coach, hitting three-pointers and, with time running out, taking a chance with a half-court shot. He made it, too.
But kids in our city don’t know the chances they take just by stepping outside. There is an average of one murder per day in Detroit. Youth is no shield. In the last few months, a 16-year-old was shot, execution style, in an abandoned field near 7 Mile. Another 16-year-old was shot inside a Coney Island restaurant on McNichols. And in Highland Park that homeless man found Jerome Parker’s body on Lincoln, a murdered honor student on a street named for a murdered president.
So today, instead of shooting jumpers at the church gym, Jerome Parker is dead.
And instead of drinking his quart of milk with his S’mores breakfast cereal, Jerome Parker is dead.
And instead of cheering up his classmates with his infectious smile, instead of watching cartoons with his younger brother, instead of mopping the floor, or coming downstairs in his favorite silk boxer shorts, or chewing on his favorite Ferrero Rocher chocolate candies, Jerome Parker is dead, gone, buried in a new suit in the Woodlawn Cemetery, another piece of Detroit’s future, dressed up, boxed and covered with dirt.
Kill your children, kill your city.
“Do you know other people who’ve had to deal with guns and murder?” Ronda Scott is asked.
“Most of the people I know,” she says, matter-of-factly. “When I had to go to the morgue to identify my son, it wasn’t my first time there.”
She shakes her head. “Why do people go around killing people?”
Jerome Parker was not shot in that abandoned lot in Highland Park. He was dumped there. “There wasn’t as much blood as you would expect,” says John Roach, a spokesman for the Wayne County Sheriff’s Department. “We’re convinced the homicide occurred somewhere else.”
Whom was he with? Did he fall into a bad situation? Did he even know his killer, or the driver of the vehicle from which he was dumped out like garbage?
Who knows? There are so many cases like this now, a shooting here, a body there, no apparent motive, maybe only a wrong place/wrong time explanation. Homicide work in metro Detroit can be the logical lack of logic, in which “no good reason” is the only explanation.
And meanwhile, Ronda Scott, a single mother with a good job and two kids, gets reduced to a single mother with a good job and one kid.
On Saturday, Christmas Day, she plans to go to the cemetery and put some chocolate candies on her son’s grave. “He came to me one more time, last week, in a dream,” she says. “This time he was smiling. He said, ‘I love you, Mommy,’ and I asked him, ‘How is it where you’re at?’ And he said, ‘Mama, it’s beautiful.’ “
Which is more than he could say here.
Ronda Scott is thinking about moving soon. Maybe Southfield. Maybe Auburn Hills. “Someplace safer,” she says. “I grew up in the city, I still like it, but …”
But who can blame her?
Wake up, Detroit. We can talk about renewal, casinos, a Super Bowl. But when kids go off to school in the morning and are tossed dead on the sidewalk at night, it’s not a city, it’s a killing field. And the stench should sicken all of us, like that bullet, through and through.
Come back to the Free Press next week for the final installment in Dreams Deferred 2004. Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or firstname.lastname@example.org”