Phyllis Stover held a simple wish that her 17-year-old son, Derronn, would walk across a stage with a high school diploma.
At home, he was a lovable teenager who looked out for his four older sisters, heaped playful attention on his 6-year-old brother and acted as the protector for a single mother living in Southeast Washington.
But away from home, Derronn ran with the wrong groups and had a mounting list of criminal charges, which had him worried about spending time in a youth correctional facility, his mother said. As the accusations stacked up, she pleaded with him to listen to her advice.
“It’s easy to get into the streets. It’s not easy to get out,” Stover said she would tell her son. “He was a good child. He just hung with the wrong crowd.”
The streets took Derronn on Sunday, when he was shot three times near East Capitol Street, in the unit block of Burns Street NE.
According to a D.C. police report, Derronn was found fatally wounded after eight gunshots were heard about 9:30 p.m. He is among the 11 people slain in the District so far this year. Police have announced neither arrests nor a motive in the case.
His mother said officers tried to save Derronn’s life when they arrived, but he did not survive surgery at Prince George’s Hospital Center.
The shooting came less than two weeks after one of Derronn’s sisters was wounded during an attack on Mellon Street SE, which has caused his mother to wonder whether the incidents are related. Police said they have no indication that Derronn’s killing was connected to his sister’s shooting or any other case.
Stover said she is grieving a young man who loved playing basketball, going to the movies and spending time with his girlfriend. Family members said he also liked football and was a Dallas Cowboys fan, though no one was sure why he picked that team.
“My heart is broken. I wish it was me instead of my son,” she said.
On Tuesday, Stover sat on her porch in the unseasonably warm weather as people stopped by to offer sympathy or drop off food. She looked through clothes that a court youth worker who knew Derronn had brought, trying to pick out a shirt and tie he could be dressed in for the wake.
Stover finally settled on a simple outfit of grays and beiges. She had already decided he would wear his Chicago Bulls cap.
“I want to dress him how he would normally dress,” she said. Stover said she planned to have her son’s remains cremated after the services and had selected an urn with the Cowboys logo.
Stover said she was raised in foster homes, so when she had children of her own, family had extra importance for her.
Derronn’s elementary school days were spent around the Sursum Corda, a long-troubled housing complex in Northwest Washington until the family moved to the Fort Dupont area six years ago.
His older siblings had moved out of the family home, which left Derronn as “the man in this house,” who did not allow outside drama to trouble his mother, Stover said.
“He held my house down like a soldier. He was sweet as gold,” Stover said.
She and Derronn used to spend a lot of time together, watching Lifetime movies or Jerry Springer. He loved the drama, she said.
“We laughed together, and we cried together,” she said. “I haven’t ate in three days. I can’t sleep. I keep sitting up waiting for my son to come home.”
Charles McGowan III, 30, Derronn’s older brother, said he found out about his death in the newspaper and had to read it a few times before it seemed real.
McGowan said he has tried to keep his feelings hidden when he is with his mother.
“I try not to cry or get upset around her,” he said. “I’ll go to the bathroom, or I’ll take a walk and grieve to myself.”
For Stover, mornings have been especially tough. Like many parents, she used to get frustrated trying to get her teenage son out of bed in time to make the bus. Now she misses those interactions.
Derronn attended the Foundation School of Prince George’s County. His mother said two people from the school came by Monday to offer condolences.
In recent months, the high school junior had given her reason to believe he might earn his diploma, as she found a mentor to help him improve his grades. She said Derronn wanted to be a D.C. firefighter if he could make it through school.
Yet he continued to face criminal charges, his mother said, including one each for assault and robbery and two others for unauthorized use of a vehicle. She said that he had been “on the run” from arrest in recent weeks and that she urged him to face the charges, but he was reluctant, fearing authorities would take him off the street.
Stover is left wondering what might have been had Derronn lived and who did this. She also has a one-word question, which may never be answered: Why?
“A part of me is gone, and I don’t know how to deal with it,” she said. “I want them to get whoever killed my son and ask, ‘Why? Why? Why?’ ”
Perry Stein contributed to this report.