After teen's death, grief and questions

By Paul Duggan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 9, 2010; 9:03 PM

In the parlor of the rowhouse where Joseph A. Sharps Jr. lived, relatives kept telling his mother, Cynthia Sharps, to hurry up. She had to be going soon. It was a little past 2 p.m. Tuesday, and she was due at the D.C. morgue by 3 to identify her 17-year-old son, killed by gunfire on the street the night before.

But Sharps, 51, had a point she wanted to make about the death of Little Joe, as the slain teenager was called. In a city where lethal mayhem among the young is common, sometimes the killers and the killed blend as one in the public's mind - just thugs murdering thugs out there. "And it's a myth," she said.

"Because a lot of good kids get killed, too."

Including Little Joe, she said.

Joe Sharps, a senior at the District's Spingarn High School, was gunned down shortly after 8:30 p.m. Monday on Holbrook Street NE in the violence-plagued Trinidad neighborhood, a half-mile from his home in the 1500 block of Queen Street NE. A classmate walking with him was wounded, but not critically.

"My son and his friend were just jawing at each other, you know, fooling around, talking trash, is what I was told," said the dead boy's father, Joseph A. Sharps Sr., 54, a lube manager at a car dealership.

He stood on the front porch of the brick rowhouse in the autumn sunshine, waiting to leave for the morgue with his wife of 18 years. "And three guys, so I'm told, they thought that they was talking to them, as far as I know. The one guy says, 'What'd you say?' And he just pulled out a gun, and he shot my son. Shot the both of them."

Police wouldn't comment on the shooting except to say that it was under investigation by homicide detectives.

"Killed my son for what reason?" the father pleaded.

Behind him, Cynthia Sharps leaned on a doorjamb in the parlor. Her sister-in-law Wanda Davis, 44, was perched in a corner with a computer on her lap, typing an obituary. The victim's sister Abrianna Sharps, 16, sat slumped on a sofa between two friends, the three girls struggling for words. What can be said about a life barely lived?

"He was lots of fun," Brittany Lewis, 16, said in a tiny voice. "He had lots of friends."

"He really liked sports," Abrianna added. "Football. Baseball. Basketball."

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