Don't call him Javon. Call him J-rock. Because that's what the friends left behind call Javon Gaskins, the 16-year-old junior at Wilson High and the District's first homicide victim this year.
Joshua Fuller, 19, was J-rock's buddy since elementary school. So were Alton Smith and Donetta Fisher, both 17. J-rock lived with various relatives during his abbreviated life; these classmates were his family, and he theirs. They went from playing tag to Tupac, and when Javon died, part of their childhood died with him.
They miss his rituals: his banging on the trash cans during lunchtime at school, wheedling anyone he could out of their potato chips, prancing about in his Air Jordans and his short, neat haircut after a visit to his barber. "Hey, son," he'd say to whomever was around, "I just got me a fresh joint from Alex."
On Saturday mornings, he'd drop by Joshua's apartment looking for Joshua's mom. "Mama Linda," he'd call out, "what you cookin' today?" Mama Linda would dish up pancakes and eggs.
When Joshua was threatening to fight a guy at school, J-rock told him to chill. "He was always willing to listen," says Joshua. "No one can replace him."
He loved the ladies, all three agree. "He'd come up saying, 'Do-net-ta, Do-net-ta, when are you going to give me some sugar?" says Donetta.
"When I walk by his house, I catch myself calling his name," Alton says.
Since J-rock was shot in the head -- still no known motive or suspect -- three other young men these friends know have been shot dead in their Southeast Washington neighborhood. All separate incidents.
How do Donetta, Alton and Joshua, haunted by so many little memories, get up every morning and do their braids, lace up their shoes, remember to put their homework in their backpacks?
Imagine four young men in a college dorm murdered within five months. National journalists would swarm. Everyone would know the nicknames of those victims.
So call Javon J-rock, and call his murdered pals Bubbles, Little Phil and Big Son. Because that's what their friends call them.
-- Laura Sessions Stepp