D.C. family mourns man killed fighting off home invasion

By Theola Labbé-DeBose
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 8, 2010

Akil James Sanford had just gotten home from shopping for treats for his son on New Year's Eve when he realized he'd left them in the car. He went outside to get the bag. That's when two gunmen robbed him and followed him inside his house to rob his family.

Before the assailants fled, they shot and killed Sanford's teenage brother, who had tried to fight them off and warn the rest of the family.

"They asked me, 'Where do you live?' and kept saying, 'Where's the money at?' " said Sanford, 26. He said he was ordered to lie facedown on the floor while the gunmen ransacked the house in Northeast Washington, taking car keys and house keys.

Sanford said he did not know the intruders. A D.C. police spokeswoman said that there had been no arrests in the slaying, which occurred in the 200 block of Webster Street, and that the investigation was continuing.

Emmanuel Durant Jr., 19, Sanford's brother, might have prevented more bloodshed, family members and friends said. He fought the attackers and, dazed and bleeding from a gunshot wound, rushed upstairs to warn his sister.

"He said, 'Grab the kids and get out the house right now!' " said Denice Sanford, 22. She quickly collected herself and her 2-year-old son and got out. The gunmen also fled, and Durant ran out of the house looking for them. He collapsed in a nearby alley, where police and paramedics found him. He died shortly afterward.

Durant's slaying shocked the quiet community of longtime residents just north of Catholic University.

"We've had people who lived here for 20, 30, 40, 50 years, and they could not recall a homicide," said Albrette "Gigi" Ransom, an advisory neighborhood commission member who helped organize a vigil this week that drew more than 50 relatives, friends and residents.

Ransom, who lives on the same block as the family, said Durant was polite and well mannered and quietly took on a leadership role with younger children in the community. "In the summer, he'd have a trail of kids behind him," she said. "And he'd come over and talk with the kids who did not have a father at home, assuming the role of an absent parent."

Durant's mother, Cheryl Sanford, 55, who also lives in the home but was not there at the time of the break-in, said Durant was her "miracle baby." He was due in March 1990 but was born in January at just 3 pounds, 3 ounces. His organs weren't fully developed, and he struggled.

Manny, as his family called him, was particular about money, his family said. He carefully saved yet always complained about not having enough -- protests that his family members scarcely believed, they said. But he doted on his girlfriend, Carmen Payne, 18.

Durant, the youngest of four children, grew up in Maryland, but the family moved back to the District several years ago. He graduated from Roosevelt High School in June and wasn't sure what he wanted to do. He was looking for a job so he could take care of Payne "and buy her anything she wanted," his mother said.

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