The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

As family, friends and teachers mourn slain D.C. teen, his mother promises to advocate for other youths

Mourners gather at Emery Heights Community Center in Washington on May 31 for where a memorial vigil for Kassius-Kohn Glay, a 16-year-old who was fatally shot.
Mourners gather at Emery Heights Community Center in Washington on May 31 for where a memorial vigil for Kassius-Kohn Glay, a 16-year-old who was fatally shot. (Amanda Andrade-Rhoades for The Washington Post)
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In middle school, Kassius-Kohn Glay participated in the Brilliant Boys Book Club. As he entered high school, a teacher said, he became a role model for his younger siblings and classmates. He talked about an interest in zoology.

One school administrator said Glay also talked about working hard and setting a good example. A friend said the teen was the go-to person for someone in need of a laugh.

The 16-year-old high school student was found fatally shot just before noon Friday inside a crashed vehicle in the 600 block of Upshur Street NW, near Grant Circle Park in Petworth. Police said they believe the shooting occurred a half-mile south, in Park View.

A man who had also been in the vehicle was treated at a hospital for injuries not believed to be life-threatening. As of Tuesday evening, no arrests had been made.

At a vigil Monday at the Emery Heights Community Center on Georgia Avenue, near Glay’s home, his parents implored young people to stay safe and spoke of the dangers young Black men face in their neighborhoods.

“I don’t want this to happen no more,” Glay’s mother, Juanita Culbreth, said to people gathered at an outdoor basketball court at dusk on Memorial Day. “To the last breath of my body, I’m going to be sure. I’m going to keep on advocating for y’all.”

His father, Kohn Glay, who lives in Delaware, said that “as a Black father raising a Black child, especially a Black boy, there’s certain things that you’re very conscious about teaching them,” he told the group.

“Losing Kassius to gun violence in the streets of D.C. is at the very top of that list,” Glay said. “From the moment he was born, because of the nature of the society that we live in, that was something I was very conscious of making sure did not happen to him.”

Homicides in the District are rising for the fourth consecutive year, with 79 through the first five months of 2021. That is a 23 percent increase over this time in 2020, which set a 16-year high for killings. In addition to Glay, two 15-year-olds and one 17-year-old have been fatally shot in the District this year.

Of the 198 people killed in D.C. in 2020, 11 were under the age 18, including a 15-month-old struck by a bullet while strapped in a car seat in the back of a vehicle driven by his father. Eight of those youths were between 11 and 17 years old, and one of them, Taijhon Wyatt Jr., was Glay’s best friend. Culbreth told WUSA-TV that her son saw Wyatt get shot Aug. 10 in the Brightwood Park neighborhood of Northwest Washington.

On Tuesday, an anti-violence group called the TRIGGER Project convened a mostly virtual conference to address gun crimes. Educators, activists, clergy, health workers and youths came together to try to understand and prevent the rising number of killings, addressing a wide range of issues including childhood trauma and the need to intervene before people become victims or criminal suspects.

Bryan L. Hill, who had been Glay’s art teacher at his middle school, Truesdell Education Campus, said the teen “always gave his all and always wanted to be better.”

Hill, now a vice principal at an elementary school in Maryland, mourned the loss of “a promising young man whose life was taken away.” He said while at Truesdale, Glay belonged to the Junior Elite Scholars, a book club that promotes literacy, and he often read to younger students to pass the time.

In an email, Hill said he last saw Glay at a community day in Lansburgh Park in Southwest, hosted by Alpha Phi Alpha, the first African American intercollegiate fraternity, where the teen was getting books and school supplies with his brother.

Family, friends and teachers gathered for the Monday vigil at the community center.

There were helium balloons, white taper candles and flickering tea candles arranged on the court in a pattern spelling the letters K-A-S-H. Teachers and school administrators came to pay tribute and give lots of hugs.

“Long Live Tall Step” said one sign. “Rest in Power King Kassius” said another.

Glay was the second-oldest of six siblings and lived with his mother not far from the community center. He had attended D.C. public schools, including Truesdell and most recently Bell Multicultural High School in Columbia Heights, where he was finishing 11th grade.

Michael Redmond, now a chief academic officer for a charter school network, was an assistant principal at Truesdell when he met Glay. The youth had joined the Brilliant Boys Book Club and talked to him about zoology.

Redmond said he interviewed Glay for a doctoral dissertation. The teenager told him: “I feel like I have a stronger work ethic than those around me, or my reason behind trying to be successful is different than theirs. I have siblings and stuff at home, so I know if I drop out of school or if I fail or whatever, that’s just hindering me from helping them, compared to somebody else who may not have siblings at home.”

Charles Robinson, dean of students at Truesdell, said Glay was one of many former students who frequently stopped by the school to check in. Robinson recalled seeing him a couple of months ago, giving him a quick hug and chatting for a moment. “Take care, be safe,” Robinson said he told Glay that day.

Mercedes Williams, 20, one of many friends at the vigil, called Glay “my extra little brother,” and remembered him as goofy, loving and caring. “He’s going to find a way to make you laugh,” she said.

Glay’s father surveyed the mourners and said he could see the sadness, pain and anger in their faces. He urged everyone, though, to focus on the future.

“See this moment as the point in your life when you decided to be your greatest self,” Kohn Glay told them.

Perry Stein contributed to this report.

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