Services held for first of four Southeast D.C. shooting victims

By Maria Glod
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, April 7, 2010; B01

A week after 17-year-old Tavon Nelson was killed in one of the deadliest shootings on District streets in years, family and friends gathered to remember a "normal kid" who was a PlayStation fanatic, loved cheese pizza and spent hours at local malls.

Nelson, known to his friends by the nickname Tadom, was one of four people slain March 30 when young men in a minivan sprayed bullets into a crowd hanging out on a corner in Southeast Washington. Five others were wounded.

"This is the hardest thing I've ever had to do in my life is to say words over Tavon," Nelson's uncle, Kenneth Nelson, told the crowd gathered at Tenth Street Baptist Church in Northwest Washington. "He was supposed to say words over me. But we live in a world that is topsy-turvy."

The service, the first held to honor the four victims, began as a memorial to a young man who was close to his family, a sports fan and enjoyed listening to rap. But, as community leaders and local politicians arrived, it also became a call to action and rally for change in the city's most troubled neighborhoods.

"My friends, this is the first of four that are to be buried. Is this our city? Will we claim it?" Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) said to the crowd. "One was too many. Four was unspeakable. This, my friends, was an outsized tragedy."

D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) and Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray (D), who has announced that he will challenge Fenty, were among the local leaders who came to offer condolences. Ward 8 council member Marion Barry (D) spoke at the service.

"Your politicians and elected officials need to be there for these families and this community after the cameras are gone ... after the headlines," Barry said. "I stand ready to do all that I can."

The night of March 30, Nelson and 16-year-old Brishell Jones, 18-year-old DaVaughn Boyd and 19-year-old William Jones III were killed in gunfire that police think was the result of an ongoing feud sparked by suspicions over a missing bracelet.

Authorities said it may have started at a March 21 party attended by Sanquan Carter, 19, the brother of Orlando Carter, one of those charged in the March 30 shootings.

According to court records, Sanquan Carter became angry during the party, which stretched into the next morning, because he thought someone had stolen his gold-colored bracelet. When a car pulled up, Carter talked to someone inside, and the shooting began. Jordan Howe, 20, was killed, and another person was wounded. Police said in an affidavit that neither Howe nor the other victim took the bracelet. Sanquan Carter was arrested and charged with murder. His brother Orlando was also a suspect.

On March 23, a law enforcement source said, Orlando Carter was wounded by gunfire. The motive is unclear, but police are looking into the possibility that he may have been targeted to avenge Howe's death.

At least some of the victims in the March 30 shooting had just attended Howe's funeral, authorities said.

Orlando Carter, 20; Nathaniel Simms, 26; and a 14-year-old boy have been charged in the March 30 killings. Police were looking for a fourth suspect.

Nelson's parents, Michelle Nelson and Morris Collins, on Tuesday stood before their son's open casket greeting family and friends, who plucked tissues from a box as they filed by. Young people who filled the church wore "RIP Tadom" T-shirts with photos of the slender young man.

"He was a motivated kid. He wanted to be a counselor when he grew up," Morris Collins said of his son. He said Nelson was a basketball fan but "he liked football more."

At a pew near the back of the church, Tyeisha Harrell, 23, rested her head on the wooden armrest and wept softly. Harrell, who described herself as one of Nelson's best friends, said they liked to wander around Pentagon City or Montgomery Mall. Nelson, she said, took pride in being a sharp dresser.

Harrell said Nelson's favorite foods were pizza and frozen waffles. He was a fan of rappers, including Gucci Mane. He loved the movie "Face/Off," starring John Travolta and Nicolas Cage, and watched YouTube. She said he was popular with the girls but didn't have a serious girlfriend.

"He was just fun to be around," Harrell said.

Pastor Michael A.C. Durant called on adults to do more to reach out to young people and ensure they have good role models and opportunities for schooling and jobs.

"The Lord didn't take Tavon," Durant said. "Senselessness, foolishness, carelessness, heartlessness took Tavon. . . . We may not have pulled the trigger, but we created the environment."

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