Family of two sons injured in South Capitol Street shootings battles for recovery

God I stand on your word. You told me that I would not lose another son like this; and last night, I stood on your word. I walked South Capitol St. and prayed and I believe that you sent me an angel.

— Lavenia Attaway’s journal,

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March 31, 2010

It was a Tuesday night — March 30, 2010 — and Lavenia Attaway had just started dinner after a day at work. Her cellphone rang. Her son Jamal was on the line.

He had been shot. So had his oldest brother, Kevin. Asked where and how Kevin was, Jamal couldn’t answer.

“Mom, I don’t know,” Lavenia Attaway recalled hearing.

“I just dropped to my knees and began praying,” she remembered in a recent interview. “My husband grabbed my hands and said, ‘Let’s go.’ ”

Before I got to him three people had told me that he didn’t make it. I fell to the floor the last time and began to cry; but I dust myself off and look for my child.

— Lavenia Attaway, March 31, 2010

The shooting, in the 4000 block of South Capitol Street SE, was one of the District’s deadliest in decades. Three people were killed — a fourth was fatally shot earlier that day by the same men — and six were injured, capping a week of back-and-forth violence.

Jamal Blakeney, 23, was shot in his back. He spent a week in a hospital. Kevin, 31, was more seriously wounded. Shot in his head and hip, he is learning to walk and talk again.

On Tuesday, five men convicted in the shootings are scheduled to be sentenced in D.C. Superior Court. Officials expect an overflow crowd in Judge Ronna L. Beck’s courtroom.

The men — Orlando Carter, 22; his brother Sanquan, 21; Jeffrey D. Best and Robert Bost, both 23; and Lamar Williams, 24 — could face life sentences. A jury found them guilty in May of murder and other offenses related to the shootings.

In October, Nathaniel Simms, 28 — who pleaded guilty to murder and testified against his five friends — is scheduled to be sentenced for his role.

Lavenia Attaway plans to be in the courtroom Tuesday. She hopes to find “closure” there, but adds: “I can’t say that we now can live a normal life, because I would be lying.”

In 2002, her son Lawrence, 19, died from a gunshot wound to his head. Authorities ruled his death a suicide, though Attaway believes he was killed because, she said, no gun or gunpowder residue was ever found.

In 2008, her son Maurice, now 26, was sentenced to 20 years in prison on an assault charge.

Then came March 2010. Attaway started keeping a journal about a year before, and she agreed to share it with The Post; some of her most stirring writing came after she, like dozens of others that night, arrived at the scene of the shooting. Directed to Washington Hospital Center, Attaway climbed into a chartered bus with others seeking the dead and wounded.

By the next afternoon, surgeons had operated on Kevin’s head two times. In the days and weeks to follow, some families buried loved ones. Other victims, including Jamal, returned home. Attaway watched Kevin struggle to recover, one side of his collapsed skull resembling a deflated basketball.

She was grateful that her son was alive. But the daily ritual of sitting beside his hospital bed took its toll. At one time, she now admits, she wondered whether he might have been better off dead.

I asked Kevin some questions to see if he remember some things. He couldn’t talk but could move (shake) his head. So, I started off asking him did he know what happened to him and he shook his head no, then I asked did he know who I was and he said no. My eyes begin to watered and left the room.

— Lavenia Attaway,

May 2, 2010

Kevin Blakeney-Attaway cannot recall the gunfire; or that his heart stopped three times during his ambulance ride, during which emergency workers revived him each time; or even the four hospitals where he recovered.

What happened to him might not make much sense if he did. A week earlier, Sanquan Carter had become angry when his bracelet went missing at a party; he mistakenly blamed 20-year-old Jordan Howe, and Best and the Carter brothers shot into a crowd, killing Howe and wounding two. Days later, Howe’s friends shot Orlando Carter in retaliation.

Carter survived and began planning his revenge. On March 30, after a failed attempt to steal a gun that ended in the death of Tavon Nelson, 17, Orlando Carter, Best, Bost and Simms drove to South Capitol Street in a rented minivan.

A crowd of Howe’s friends had gathered after his funeral. Many still held programs or wore memorial T-shirts. Carter slowed the minivan and the others opened fire. Bri­shell “Bri” Jones, 16, DaVaughn Boyd, 19, and William Jones III, 19, were killed.

Kevin and Jamal were among the wounded. But Kevin barely knew Howe. Jamal — who declined to be interviewed for this story — had attended the funeral and called his brother afterward, suggesting that he meet him and his friends after the service.

Lord if it’s your will, please don’t let him suffer anymore. I love him that much, I can’t be selfish. Tubes everywhere. How much can a person take?

— Lavenia Attaway,

April 20, 2010

Attaway gave birth to Kevin when she was 15, so in some ways they grew up together. They share a tight bond: Their banter sounds more like that of best friends than mother and son. He jokes with her; she rolls her eyes and says “You’re silly.” He laughs.

Imposing at 6-foot-4, but with a large smile, Kevin likes to play. Instructed by caregivers to play memory games to test his recovery, he turns them around on nurses (“Kevin, who is the president?” “I know who the president is! Why don’t you tell me?”) and visitors.

His speech and walk are slow and deliberate, but he is cordial and friendly. He enjoys company and hugs from his nurses and therapists. But he prefers not to have long conversations about his life or injuries, and he sometimes loses interest in discussing them. His mental and language limitations — and need for a caregiver — could be lifelong, doctors say.

He had worked at a local Boys and Girls club and loved playing basketball. Today, he would rather sit on the sofa watching music videos. But he does on occasion see his 12-year-old daughter, who lives with her mother. Home health aides visit while his parents are at work. He goes to rehab, and is seeing a therapist.

On a recent evening, Kevin Attaway Sr. — who doesn’t plan to attend the sentencing — raked grass clippings outside the family’s District home. “My son’s life will never be the same,” he said. “He didn’t deserve this.”

Blakeney-Attaway was on the couch inside. “God spared me. That was beautiful,” he said.

His mother, sitting nearby, smiled, pulled out her journal and began to write.

 
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