When Buddy Harrison first met Aujee Tyler, in 2002, Tyler was 8 years old. Harrison was a long-ago armed robber, out of prison and running a gym called Old School Boxing, training poor kids from mean neighborhoods to fight in a ring instead of the streets.
“Oh, you could tell right away, the kid was something,” Harrison said the other day in his Capitol Hill carriage house. “Just unbelievably quick.”
Aujee “Quick” Tyler, who went on to win a slew of amateur championships as a teenager, and who might have become a pretty good pro if he had committed himself to working hard, was felled by gunfire in Southeast Washington.
Quick was 22, 120 pounds, a bantamweight and so fast.
“You couldn’t hit him,” Harrison said. “You couldn’t stop him.”
He had a wife and three children.
Now he’s in a cemetery.
Harrison, 58, whose gym is on the grounds of Rosecroft Raceway in Fort Washington, Md., is the father of Dusty Hernandez-Harrison, a celebrated young boxer in the D.C. area, a welterweight undefeated in 31 pro fights. The two sat together in the house, talking in mournful tones about Tyler, who was Hernandez-Harrison’s closest friend since boyhood.
“Unfortunately, I have this list in my head,” Harrison said. “I call it ‘the wasted talent list.’ Quick was on that list. Quick was at the top.”
“Could you not use that word?” his son, 23, said sharply, referring to “wasted.”
Unrealized, unfulfilled — those are nicer words.
Harrison shrugged. “We’ve lost so many. I can’t tell you how many funerals we’ve gone to, all from the gym.” Gesturing at his son, he said, “There were kids Dusty grew up with, talented kids he fought; they’re doing 30, 35 years for guns and whatever. Or they passed away. I can’t tell you how many times he’s put ‘RIP’ on his trunks.”
Hernandez-Harrison said, “For me, though, this one hurts the most.”
Tyler was among seven people slain in Washington in a 10-day span in March, an unusual spike in bloodshed.
The other victims were Andre Junior, 43; Matthew Thomas, 22; Travis Ennis, 26; Derrick Wright and Anthony Smith, both 33; and Sean Anderson, 48. Wright was stabbed, and the rest were shot, from March 15 to March 24. Most of the violence occurred in poor areas east of the Anacostia River.
The killings brought the city’s 2018 homicide total to 32 as of Friday. At this time in 2017, the year-to-date body count was 28, headed to 116 by year’s end.
Tyler was gunned down March 19, shortly after 4:30 p.m., in the 3500 block of Stanton Road SE, police said. The shooting is being investigated.
“When he was in shape, when he was on his A-game, he could do things I’ve never seen anyone do,” Hernandez-Harrison said. “Pound for pound, the best I ever saw as an amateur. And I could find 20 other people around boxing who’d tell you the same thing.”
That’s the shame of it, Harrison said: “He’d start to really train, then he’d stop. You know, it’s just life. He’d get a girlfriend or he’d get in a little trouble or something else would happen, and he’d stop training. Then he’d come back. Then he’d be gone again . . . . I’ve seen it a lot.”
Harrison, an accomplished amateur boxer in his youth, served nine years of a 19-year sentence for armed robbery before he was paroled in 1990 and then moved to the Naylor Gardens apartment complex in Southeast Washington, near the former Winston Elementary School.
“I would see the kids coming out of the school, and every day — it was bad — they’d be fighting,” Harrison recalled. “Sometimes I’d see one that could really fight, though. He’d fight three or four of them at the same time, and I’d think, ‘Hey, these kids can fight!’ . . . I would go up and start talking to them, try to straighten them out. Then I started training them.”
He did it free at first, in the basement of a building at Naylor Gardens, before he rented warehouse space in Clinton, Md., and opened Old School Boxing, which has since moved to Rosecroft.
Eight-year-old Aujee walked into the Clinton gym one day, escorted by an uncle, and there he met young Hernandez-Harrison, who would grow to 145 pounds and stand about eight inches taller than his buddy Quick, who topped out at a little over 5 feet.
Hernandez-Harrison once told Washingtonian magazine: “My father is white, my Mom is Puerto Rican, my stepmother is Asian. I grew up in a black neighborhood. There isn’t a culture or race I can’t understand or get along with.” The skinny kid with lightning footwork was African American, and the two soon bonded.
“Every time he left me, he gave me a hug, told me he loved me,” Hernandez-Harrison said.
Except for the final time.
Tyler, who trained at different places, bouncing mainly between Harrison’s Old School and Headbangers Boxing Gym in Southwest Washington, won the 2009 National Silver Gloves tournament in his weight class; he was a champion in a Ringside World Tournament; he was the top fighter in his class at the Junior Olympics in 2010; and he took home a National Police Athletic League title.
Those were just some of his amateur laurels.
“You name it, he won it,” Harrison said.
In 2015, after signing a management contract with Florida-based ProBox, he moved to Miami and started his pro career in Mexico with knockout victories in two bouts.
A boxer who was in the Florida gym with Tyler later told Hernandez-Harrison that he and Tyler were sitting on a beach one day, gazing at the water, when Tyler began crying tears of joy. Tyler said, “I made it. I made it out. Nobody makes it out.”
He meant the streets of Southeast Washington.
Nobody makes it out.
Tyler lost his third fight in Mexico due to questionable refereeing, Hernandez-Harrison said. Then, for a reason Tyler never made clear to his friend, he returned to the District and mainly just hung around.
He had one serious problem with the law as an adult — a gun-possession charge that got him a suspended six-month jail term, court records show. “When he was in the gym, he worked hard, did everything you’re supposed to,” Hernandez-Harrison said. “But then you wouldn’t see him for a while.”
Quick was quick — but he lacked the hunger and focus it takes to earn a living in the ring. In his brief stint as a pro, he pocketed only a couple thousand dollars.
One of Harrison’s theories on boxers, honed through years of hard-knocks experience, is they tend to get shot in street beefs because their enemies are afraid to fight them with fists. He said he worries constantly about Hernandez-Harrison, who lives in a tough part of the city east of the river.
What happened on Stanton Road that late afternoon? On a couch in the carriage house, father and son shared a meaningful glance, and both went silent for a moment.
If they knew, they weren’t telling.
“Just those outside influences, from outside the gym,” Harrison said quietly. “Peer pressure, I guess, or whatever you want to call it.”
He said again, “I’ve seen it a lot.”
Peter Hermann contributed to this report.