Kirkland told program leaders he wanted to be a barber and was scheduled to take a practice GED exam this week, Blackwell said.
“He left the program with ambition and more hope,” Blackwell said. “He was a young person who had goals and a vision, and he is sorely missed by everyone here.”
On Sunday night, Kirkland was shot in the head and died in the 1300 block of Morris Road in the Anacostia neighborhood of Southeast Washington.
Two other teens were wounded — one in the hand, the other in the foot — when police said someone opened fire on the street. Police have not commented on a possible motive and have not said who if anyone appeared to be the intended target.
Kirkland was born in Detroit and moved to the District with his family — including his twin brother, Jamiyl — more than a decade ago. His uncle Teron Briggs, 36, said that Kirkland’s mother had better job prospects in Washington and that she believed it was safer than Detroit.
Briggs said they returned to Detroit for a visit two months ago to celebrate Kirkland’s grandmother’s 60th birthday.
“I know the neighborhood they live in is pretty rough,” Briggs said, recalling the last conversation he had with Kirkland. “I told him, ‘Hang out with your brother and not with any of those guys on the streets. I don’t know what those guys are into. I know what your brothers are into.’”
Briggs said his nephew responded, “ ‘Okay, Unc, yes, Unc,’ stuff like that.”
Kirkland, his twin and a third brother played for several years for the Woodland Tigers football league, a nonprofit started three decades ago to help youths in troubled neighborhoods find an escape.
The league’s coach and founder, Michael Zanders, said Kirkland — whose friends called him Chip — played from 9 to 14 years old.
“He was a good kid, well disciplined. They were all real close,” the coach said of the siblings.
Kirkland played quarterback, wide receiver and running back for the various teams. Zanders described the brothers as “good athletes” who never missed practice.
The coach started the league at the beginning of the District’s deadly crack wars, and of the 28 players he fielded in 2001, Zanders told The Washington Post, just five are still alive. Now, there’s a new wave of killing taking away his youths.
Gerald Watson, 15, was shot 17 times in December after running into an apartment stairwell to escape gunmen wearing ski masks. Karon Brown, 11, a promising defensive end, was killed July 18 after a beef between adults and kids. And three days later Jamal Bandy, a 27-year-old assistant coach for the Tigers, was fatally shot.
And now Kirkland is gone, too.
“We don’t know what’s going on. It’s a youth war. We need to somehow figure out a way to stop this,” Zanders said. “I don’t know the motive behind it all. I don’t know the reason they are going after each other like this. But our children are dying at a rapid rate.”
Kirkland was the eighth person between age 11 and 17 to be killed this year — the third since the end of August.
Zanders said he does not feel his efforts are in vain.
“You might see 10 or 15 get killed, but I can name 30 or 40 who went the right way,” Zanders said. “I’d never say I’m failing. I just can’t save them all.”
Kirkland attended Somerset Academy Public Charter School the first semester of the 2018-2019 academic year. Another twin at Somerset, Maurice Scott, was fatally shot in May.
Kirkland’s twin attends another charter school where he is a standout basketball player.
Cory Stowers, a former teacher at Somerset, remembers Kirkland as respectful and always smiling in his digital journalism class. The teen often listened to his favorite rapper, Swipey, as he completed his work. Stowers introduced Kirkland to books about the city and the all-black D.C. punk band Bad Brains.
He recalled that Kirkland didn’t particularly like the music but that he was curious about it.
“He said, ‘I don’t understand it, but I can see they are really into what they are doing,’ and he gave it two thumbs up,” Stowers said. “It gave a clue to who he was, into experiencing new things.”