To look at him, he didn’t seem the boxing type — skinny, quiet and unassuming.
But when TaQuan Pinkney got into boxing about three years ago, he not only liked it, but also learned he was good at it. The activity offered a safe haven from the rough District neighborhood he called home.
Pinkney, 18, was shot and killed after 1 p.m. Sunday near the intersection of Stanton and Pomeroy roads in Southeast Washington. He had left to buy a soda at a store a few blocks from home. Friends and family said he was shot in the back while running away from people having a “neighborhood beef” and was caught in the crosshairs.
More than 100 friends, family members and community leaders attended a vigil Thursday to honor Pinkney. At the end, 70 red and black balloons — Pinkney’s favorite colors — were released.
Those who spoke recalled him as upbeat, loving and determined to get a job to help his four siblings and mom move to the Maryland suburbs, where they have extended family.
D.C. police said the case is under investigation and authorities have no suspects or motives in the case.
Pinkney is among 195 people in the Washington region killed by violence this year, according to tracking by The Washington Post. Of them, D.C. police say 108 were killed in the District, a 37 percent increase over this time last year.
Of homicides this year in the District, 71 have been in hard-pressed neighborhoods east of the Anacostia River. Seventeen of the victims were under the age of 19.
For family, friends and community leaders who knew Pinkney, his death was heartbreaking. He recently graduated from Suitland High School in Maryland and enrolled at the University of the District of Columbia for a program to learn about HVAC technology — or heating, ventilation and air conditioning. He had been working at a sandwich shop near his house.
“He always said, ‘Mom, I want to do better,’ ” recalled his mother, Yolanda Pinkney, 38. “He always said, ‘We’re moving.’ ”
About five years ago, Pinkney became involved with Horton’s Kids, a nonprofit organization in the District that helps more than 200 disadvantaged children each year with educational opportunities. He had gotten into boxing with its help.
“He had perseverance,” said Rahaman Kilpatrick, manager of family engagement for Horton’s Kids. “Ten kids signed up when we first offered boxing, and by the end, only three were left. One of them was TaQuan.”
Even after Horton’s Kids ended a partnership with the gym, Pinkney found a ride or caught the Metro to get there or another gym in Northeast.
His mother said he liked boxing because it was something different. Pinkney often was at school, at Horton’s Kids or in his house, his mother said, to stay away from danger in the neighborhood.
“He liked the fact that it got him out of the neighborhood,” she said. “He got to relieve some stress, too.”
Pinkney wasn’t the type of “kid that you would expect to be good at a sport that’s about being aggressive,” said Robin Berkley, executive director of Horton’s Kids. “He had such a positive, relaxed, happy attitude, but he was really good at it.”
Friends and community leaders recalled how he strove to be on time to every activity and was often seen in the neighborhood walking his dog, a Yorkie named Dior.
In his sophomore and junior years, Berkley said Pinkney had lost some interest in school but had what a mentor said was a “wake-up call” his senior year when he realized he might not graduate. He started taking night classes and doing other work to catch up.
Yolanda Pinkney, as well as others who knew her son, said they believe two groups may have exchanged words at the store when the violence escalated.
“Shots fired,” she said, “everybody scattered. He was the only one to get shot in the back.”
Kilpatrick said that TaQuan Pinkney stayed away from those who were getting into trouble, but that it wasn’t enough.
“He didn’t want anything to do with that,” he said. “It’s so ironic. You can do everything the right way and still be the victim of violence.”
Peter Hermann contributed to this report.