A Chronic Criminal Dies, a Stranger to His Children

Nolan Cooper was shot Aug. 14.
Nolan Cooper was shot Aug. 14. (Courtesy Of D.c. Police. - Courtesy Of D.c. Police.)
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By Paul Duggan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, August 24, 2008

The three siblings, all grown now, rode up from South Carolina to bury a stranger yesterday, their father. Crack took hold of Nolan T. Cooper nearly 20 years ago, when his son and daughters were little. He left his family for the streets, and they never saw him again alive.

They knew he drifted on the wretched fringes of the nation's capital, a homeless junkie flopping in dank, hidden places when he wasn't in jail or a halfway house. They tried getting in touch with him from time to time, just to let him know he was still in their hearts. But Cooper, in squalor, clung to a vestige of pride. He told people he didn't want his kids seeing him the way he was.

Then somebody shot him. And here were the siblings yesterday, parents themselves, in their 20s, having traveled 400 miles by bus and pickup, reunited at last with their father in the chapel of a Landover funeral home.

How Nolan Cooper became a D.C. homicide statistic is a story that goes way back. A lot of years of bad road brought him to the abandoned public housing complex where he died Aug. 14. He perished in an instant that morning. But he had been sliding toward demise for a long, long time.

He was a chronic public nuisance -- such a persistent shoplifter that a judge in 2006 banned him from every CVS store in the District. All he had on him when he died were release papers from the D.C. jail. After three months in custody on minor drug and assault charges, he had been out for just 18 hours when he was shot.

"I think I tried to contact him four times in the last three years, because I had triplets," said his son, Tyrone Cooper. The boys' names are Aubrey Nolan Cooper, Brandon Nolan Cooper and Cory Nolan Cooper. "I wanted him to know I was doing good. And I wanted to make it here to see him, bring the boys to see him, because all of them carry his name.

"I don't know if he ever found out about that or not."

Cooper was 61 when he was killed, one of two men gunned down in daylight outside the vacant, soon-to-be-bulldozed Temple Courts high-rise a mile and a half from Union Station. Poor neighborhood, death by bullets: a familiar tragedy. The other victim, like most people shot in urban America, was a young black man. Cooper didn't fit the profile. Not often does a man his age get caught up in violence with someone in his teens.

There's no indication in Washington-area court records of Cooper routinely running afoul of the law before addiction put him on the streets. Relatives said he worked in the electrical trade in the mid-1980s, when his wife, Barbara, gave birth to Tyrone, now 25; Keyona Cooper, 24; and Sharda Cooper, 22. Their father, a D.C. native, was in his 30s then, a decade older than their mother, now deceased. They lived in and around the District in the good days.

Sharda said she can't recall her father; Tyrone and Keyona said their memories of him are faded snapshots now.

"All I know is up to the part where we were all still together, probably when I was 6 or 7," Keyona said. "Last thing I remember, he brought us fireworks, and it was about the Fourth of July. We were living on a hill."

Her brother said: "He'd always bring me toys home. Always taking me wherever he had to go, walking to the store and stuff like that."

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