These are nine stories from America’s homicide crisis.
Jaylon was on his front porch.
Jody was at the park.
Juanita was sitting in her car.
Violence found them all.
During the last three years, homicides nationwide have reached their highest levels in decades.
The deadly spike coincided with the onset of the coronavirus pandemic: The rate of killings rose nearly 30 percent in 2020 and remained high through the following year, according to a Washington Post database created to track the toll. Even now, as the bloodshed has slowed, the homicide rate outpaces pre-pandemic levels.
This gun violence tends to grab headlines when it occurs in horrific public spasms: at a Walmart in Virginia, a nightclub in Colorado, an elementary school in rural Texas. But the focus on mass shootings obscures the totality of the American ailment: people killed on city streets and inside their homes, deaths that seldom attract national attention and cases that rarely involve high-profile prosecutions. In many, an arrest has yet to be made.
The slayings have left a trail of grieving families, neighborhoods in mourning and an untold number of people dealing with the trauma of sudden, brutal loss. And the toll is not equally borne.
Gun crime disproportionately impacts people of color, especially Black men. Victim data collected from each city profiled here show Black people made up more than 80 percent of the total homicide victims in 2020 and 2021. And while data show gun deaths have surged around the country, a number of cities lead the way.
The Post visited nine of these places, which have seen some of the nation’s highest recent murder rates. They are spread mostly across the South and Midwest. Some have long been in the spotlight for their homicide numbers, others have not.
In each place, monuments have sprung up to commemorate those lost, some informal and fleeting, others lasting — some public, some private. They mark a death, but just as important, they remind everyone who sees them of the lives lived: the aspiring aerospace engineer, the retired chef who cooked for the hungry, the teen so funny he was granted five minutes at the end of class to joke around, the 4-year-old who laid flowers on her dad’s grave last Father’s Day.
Here are some of those memorials, and the stories of the people who inspired them.
Story by Joanna Connors, Photos by Dustin Franz
A couple of years before he was killed, 17-year-old Lawrence Morgan posted a sign on his bedroom door: “Guns Forbidden.”
“He was always talking about how he hated how people carried guns,” said Joey Kline, Lawrence’s best friend since fourth grade. “He was just so against guns.”
He had other passions too. His mother, Bethany Rohrer, said her son loved basketball and making people laugh. He was goofy and endearing — one of his teachers even offered him five minutes at the end of every class to joke around, as long as he cut it out during lessons.
“Every memory I have of him is of us laughing and smiling,” Kline said.
Friends were always popping over to Lawrence’s house in Parma, a Cleveland suburb; his mother wanted it that way. The boys would sometimes wander to a nearby park or drive around the neighborhood. That is what they were doing the afternoon of June 21, when someone started firing.
Lawrence was shot seven times in the chest and died on the scene. Police later arrested Gunnar Glaszewski, 16, and charged him with murder and felonious assault. Gunnar and Lawrence lived a couple of blocks from each other and went to the same high school. “There was a six-month period where Gunnar was at our house every day,” Rohrer said. “Then they had a falling out, and they weren’t friends anymore.”
The day after Lawrence was killed, two of his friends created a memorial at the corner where he was shot. They wrapped a telephone pole in strips of crepe paper — red and purple, his favorite colors — and attached star-shaped balloons. At the base, they pinned a large piece of poster board with #LLL — Long Live Law.
That evening, they held a vigil. A small crowd of friends and family lit candles; Beyonce’s “Heaven” played in the background.
“He was my person, really the only person I could ever talk to,” said a sobbing Allison Radulov, a friend from middle school. “He’s just a genuine person, never out to hurt anyone.”
“Lawrence was such a good kid,” said Tashondra Forster. “He tried to direct my son on the right path. He was just a positive role model for him.”
Story by Kathy Gilsinan, Photos by Joe Martinez
Damion Baker was in elementary school when he picked up the phrase he’d use for the rest of his life: “Well, technically …”
It tickled his mom An’namarie Baker to hear her son carefully explain some finer point. The expression captured Baker’s essence, she said. He was witty and diligent, a leader in school and a Division I college football player who went on to run his own construction business.
Baker was “cooler than a Cadillac with AC in hundred-degree weather,” his friend Kevin Spraggins Jr. said at his funeral. He had great taste in sweatshirts, An’namarie said, and gave “the best hugs,” according to his aunt Carlotta Baker.
That kindness was on full display on July 3 when Baker escorted a woman to her car in downtown St. Louis. The pair were shot in an attempted carjacking. She survived; Baker died at the age of 25. The case remains unsolved.
At a service in Baker’s honor, images flashed across the auditorium screen ahead of the ceremony. In one photo, Baker is a skinny kid with big ears. In another, he is a grinning teenager in a No. 17 jersey at Christian Brothers College High School. In one video clip, he is teaching his beloved niece De’Sanyi, now 5, how to brush her teeth. (“Don’t eat” the toothpaste, he advises her on the video.)
Baker dreamed of playing for the NFL, making enough money so his mother would not have to work. But when he realized that was not going to happen, he adjusted. “One thing D-Bake told me was, ‘if we’re stand-up men, that’s all our mama want,’ ” his cousin Abryon Givens said at the service.
Baker’s older brother Devon said their mother called the two of them her “Double Ds.” At an early age, they had decided that meant “dedication and determination.” The boys saw things through to the end, An’namarie said, “whether they liked it or not.”
An’namarie is focused now on ending the gun violence that has taken so many other children from their mothers. “Damion cannot just be some random number of homicide, and we move on to the next number,” she said. “It’s gotta look different.”
Story by Dan Rosenzweig-Ziff, Photos by Maddie McGarvey
As a high-schooler in the late 1980s, Glenn Clark III would get out of the shower and head straight outside. The only way to get his hair just right was to speed down the road past his family’s farm on his motorcycle, his family said.
He soon found joy working with his hands while tilling the sod fields at his home outside Columbus, Ohio. That passion led to a career as a mechanic working in factories in Ohio and Kentucky, where he moved with his then-wife, Deana Burke, and his two children.
“He was a proud daddy and a simple guy,” said Desere Adams, 54, his older sister. “He wore T-shirts with holes in them and loved riding his motorcycle. If I needed him, if they needed him, he was there.”
After he and Burke divorced 20 years ago, he moved back to work in Grove City, Ohio, to live with his parents.
Then, almost seven years ago, he met Rochelle Rice, now 53. On their first date, they spent five hours talking about Vikings — Clark knew everything about the Scandinavian seafarers’ history — and laughing. Two months later, they bought a house near Columbus.
In August, Clark received a promotion. That night, he went to a bar with members of his motorcycle club, the Avengers, to toast his new job. At the bar, a fight broke out. Five people were shot, and at least one bullet hit and killed Clark, one of two Avengers who died.
Nearly three months later, the police investigation is ongoing.
On what would have been his 51st birthday last month, Adams, Rice and the rest of the family gathered at Clark’s parents’ home to celebrate his life. They all wore their new urn jewelry — necklaces with his photo or Viking symbols and a small place for his ashes — and Adams, Rice and Shadow, now 28, showed the tattoos they had gotten to memorialize Clark.
“He was bigger than Everest in my mind,” Shadow said. “He was my hero.”
Story by Ashley Cusick, Photos by Kathleen Flynn
At St. Anna’s Episcopal Church in the Treme neighborhood, the Rev. Bill Terry and his team have maintained a somber project. On large boards hung across the church’s facade, they handwrite particulars about each New Orleanian killed by violence. Date. Name. Age. Method.
Among this year’s names: Shane Brown. 20. Shot.
“He was my little brilliant mind,” his mother, Gloria Brown, 56, said.
Nicknamed “the brain” by his family, Shane Brown was an avid reader and honor roll student who enjoyed programming and robotics. He was also socially aware, said E’jaaz Mason, 31, Brown’s digital media teacher at New Orleans Charter Science and Mathematics High School.
“You can tell he internalized a lot of what is going on in this country when it comes to Black boys,” Mason said. “He cared about the state of his people, and I always really respected that about him.”
As a junior, Brown approached Mason with an idea: He wanted to make a film about what Black boys experience in New Orleans.
“Kids used to come to me 10 times a day talking about wanting to make a movie,” Mason said. “But literally the very next day, Shane came with a double-sided sheet of loose-leaf paper, with a skeletal structure of a story.”
A year later, as the coronavirus pandemic ravaged New Orleans, Brown graduated in a drive-through ceremony held at a local park. He turned down offers at engineering programs across the country to instead begin his undergraduate education at a local community college. Brown hoped to someday transfer to one of his dream schools, like Massachusetts Institute of Technology or Georgia Tech, with the ultimate goal of becoming an aerospace engineer.
By 2022, Brown was balancing his courses with a job at the port and getting around in his first car. Then this March, less than two weeks after his 20th birthday, Brown did not come home from work one day.
Five grueling days would pass before Brown’s body was discovered floating in a New Orleans East canal. Coroners later determined he died of a gunshot wound to the head.
Police made an arrest in the case, but Brown’s loved ones said they still do not know why he was killed. Gloria Brown instead tries to focus on appreciating the 20 years she had with her only child. “He was the person that I had asked for when I became a late mom,” she said.
Mason said Brown’s death signifies a loss of potential.
“You never know what that person would have done to improve and perfect our world,” he said. “And now we’ll never know.”
Story by Danny Freedman, Photos by Brandon Dill
Juanita Washington’s photo sits outside the dance studio she loved.
“I just want to feel her presence,” said Ladia Yates, 32, owner of the Memphis dance studio where Washington worked as an administrator. “I don’t want anyone to forget her.”
Washington, 60, was fatally shot around lunchtime on Dec. 29, 2021, while sitting in her car in a Walgreens parking lot. A suspect was arrested in Las Vegas in March.
Yates had known Washington for nearly two decades. She and Yates’s grandmother Yvonne Paschal, who also works at the dance studio, had become particularly close.
“She was like our sergeant-at-arms,” said Paschal, 77. It was Washington who made sure everyone paid admission at events. She was loving but firm with the kids, and known for her honesty. “She was very open — you didn’t have to guess where she was coming from,” Paschal said.
“I just really didn’t have a friend like I had with Juanita,” she added. “I don’t have anyone that I can talk to and share things like she and I did.”
Washington’s spot at the front desk, beside Paschal, remains off limits. Yates held a candlelight vigil there in the days after the shooting, and has dedicated performances in Washington’s memory, tributes her studio has carried into performances this year.
The first of those came the day of Washington’s funeral — but took place 1,800 miles away in Los Angeles. Yates had committed to a competition there and did not want to back out. The specially choreographed opener, a swirling portrait of fury and grace set to gospel star Kirk Franklin’s “Don’t Cry,” was devoted to Washington.
Earlier that day in a Facebook post, Yates had written: “These folks don’t understand the beast that’s about to come out of me on this dance floor.”
Story by Reis Thebault, Photos by Rob Culpepper
The quiet 13-year-old stood before his parents in their east Birmingham home and made a bold declaration: “Y’all just watch, I’m gonna be famous.
It was the kind of thing kids always say, and Jaylon Palmore had said it before. Like the time he told his mother, Kim Woody-Walker, and her husband, Gregory Walker, that he would be a star football player. “You’re going to have to beef up, son,” they replied, smiling at the lanky teen.
But Jaylon’s real passion was gaming. So when he said it again, and told his parents to remember his gamertag — “You’ll be looking for Jaypop27!”— they were inclined to believe him.
After all, they watched the way he set his mind to something and followed through, like when his grades began to slip and they told him he’d lose the PlayStation if he did not shape up. The report cards that followed made his parents proud.
Jaylon’s stepdad liked to rib him about all the time he spent in his room, controller in hand, headset on: “Don’t you have a girl you can speak to?” Walker would ask, joking with the son he had helped raise for a decade. But really, his parents did not mind the hobby. He was soft-spoken and introverted, and gaming kept him inside, safe and out of trouble.
“My baby said he was going to be famous,” Woody-Walker said. “But I did not know and I did not want it to be this way.”
On the afternoon of March 5, Jaylon was on the porch with some of his older sister’s friends when two cars drove past the house, and gunmen opened fire. The first bullet hit Jaylon in the back and tore through his internal organs. Another hit an older man in the arm; he would survive, but Jaylon did not. In September, more than six months after the shooting, police arrested a suspect in the case. They believe someone else on the porch that day was the intended target.
Jaylon was killed just weeks before his 14th birthday, just months before the end of eighth grade. At school, his teachers and classmates painted a banner with his name in bright blue script and released a raft of balloons in his honor. The sign at the building’s entrance read “We love you Jaylon.” At graduation, the school held a seat open in his honor, adorned with his photo and a rose.
Woody-Walker is waiting to set up her own space to celebrate Jaylon. The couple decided to sell their house, which was full of reminders of their son.
The family did not take many pictures, but they have a reel of memories: Jaylon stroking his mother’s face and asking, “Momma, why you so soft?”; and the time his dad took him fishing, and Jaylon showed him up, catching bream after bream.
The sound of Jaylon’s music, oldies like Frankie Beverly and Maze and Earth, Wind and Fire. And his eclectic sense of style, an outfit never complete without a colorful pair of sneakers.
On May 27, Woody-Walker visited her son’s grave with a big Happy Birthday sign. She cleaned up around the site, sat down and talked to him. She told him she loved him, she’d never forget him and that she would see him again one day.
“Just rest, baby,” she said. “Just rest.”
Story by Holly Bailey, Photos by Kathleen Flynn
His name was Leslie Joseph Riley Jr. But almost everyone knew him as “Jody,” a gregarious man with a teasing smile who could often be found lingering in the shade of the towering oak trees at the corner of Tennessee and East Polk streets in South Baton Rouge.
A small vacant lot, it had for decades been an unofficial park for the locals. There were chairs and a grill, which Riley, a retired chef, often used to cook meals for neighbors who could not afford anything to eat. At 66, he had spent his life in the shadow of those trees, growing from a boy into an old man — recently joking with his family that he’d probably spend his last hours on earth in that very spot.
No one ever imagined that would be true. But on July 24, just after 3 p.m., a crackle of gunfire interrupted a sunny Sunday afternoon. Someone in a passing car had opened fire, spraying a volley of bullets toward the trees. Riley, who is not believed to have been the target, died at the scene. A second man, 20, was also shot but survived.
Gunfire has been the soundtrack of a violent stretch here in a neighborhood known as the Bottom — a nickname tied to its hilly terrain but which to some has also come to define the decline of what used to be the vibrant center of the Black community. Riley had been there through it all here, choosing to stay and raise a family even as businesses shuttered and homes fell into disrepair.
Riley dreamed of becoming a chef and got his culinary arts degree. For years, he worked at Louisiana State University, cooking at a fraternity house and then at the student union. But at night, he returned to the Bottom to cook for his family, friends and neighbors.
“He was always passionate about cooking, and that’s how he gave back to the community that he loved,” said Jasmin Brown, Riley’s granddaughter. “He cooked under that tree, all the time. For people he knew, for total strangers. That’s who he was. A man with a heart of gold.”
Riley was angry to see the neighborhood falling into decline, even as other areas of Baton Rouge were being revitalized. His oldest son, also named Leslie, had recently started a nonprofit aimed at drawing city resources and jobs into the community. Riley had recently played in a charity baseball game to raise money for the group. Now, a photo of him from that game is pasted to one of those towering oaks so central to his life.
In the days after the shooting, the spot sat eerily empty. Police have made no arrests. Nearby a sign waved from one of the trees: “Long live Jody,” it read.
Story by Sarah Fowler, Photos by Rory Doyle
Mariyah Lacy slips in and out of the video frame. The 4-year-old is in a pink tank top and ponytail, blue balloons around her. As the camera shifts toward the ground, Mariyah’s tiny gold sandals fill the screen. She lays flowers on her father’s grave.
The clip is from Father’s Day 2021. Mariyah had told her aunt she wanted to “go see Daddy.”
A year later, her family would bury Mariyah beside him, both victims of Mississippi’s gun violence epidemic. Mariyah was shot sitting in the back of her mother’s truck on June 12. Her mother’s ex-boyfriend has been charged in the killing.
The family’s “ball of sunshine,” Mariyah was always telling jokes. She loved to be around people and gave everyone she encountered a hug. She liked to stay up late and watch cartoons; Treasha Lacy, her grandmother, would often make a pallet on the floor for Mariyah and her older sister to spend the night. She loved Ramen noodles and seafood; when her father Cornelius Lacy was alive, he would feed her crab legs.
Treasha wanted to honor her granddaughter’s “princess” spirit at her funeral. Mariyah’s casket was covered in images of mermaids, unicorns and butterflies. The toddler was buried in a blue-and-pink fluffy dress; Treasha knew she would have liked it.
Treasha doesn’t like to think about the moments after Mariyah was shot. Was she in pain? Barely 4 feet tall, Treasha’s afraid she knows the answer. “I try not to think she suffered but I’m pretty sure she did,” she said.
Treasha has suffered too. There are days when she is angry. Days when the house is quiet, and it is all just too much to bear. In those moments, she swears she can hear Mariyah running through the house, pulling on her pants leg, saying, “Nana, Nana, Nana.”
Family photos line every wall in Treasha’s home; Mariyah’s face is in half a dozen. A wall in the living room is dedicated to pictures of Cornelius. After Mariyah’s death, Treasha added three more photos of Mariyah, now hung underneath a portrait of her father.
They had the same eyes. Walking down the hall from her bedroom, Cornelius’s photos would greet Treasha each morning. She used to say “Good morning, Cornelius” aloud. Now she silently says good morning to them both.
“What helps me out so much is I know Mariyah is an angel watching over us,” she said. “She’s an angel, and she’s with her dad in his arms.”
Story by Dan Rosenzweig-Ziff, Photos by Andrew Mangum
She stood up for her intellectually disabled older sister, classmates who were bullied and any animal she could find. She convinced her family to rescue five stray kittens during two hurricanes. While walking into a Walmart with her mom near her home outside Baltimore, Jesika Tetlow, then 8, called the police because she saw a dog left by itself in a shopper’s car.
“She had this big huge heart for people and for animals,” said Susannah Tetlow, her mother. “She made people feel special and made them each feel like her best friend.”
In middle school, her friend who was having suicidal thoughts had been in the bathroom for longer than usual, so Tetlow volunteered to go look for her.
She found her friend trying to drown herself in the toilet of the school bathroom. Tetlow called 911 and helped save her friend, but the incident made going into school too painful. So Tetlow was home-schooled instead, her family said.
But when the pandemic hit, forcing classes online, Tetlow thrived, her mother said. She developed an interest in medicine and decided she would either be a veterinarian or a doctor — or maybe both.
On Aug. 30, Tetlow, now 18, went to her friend’s house to take her online classes — she had continued to take classes online even when in-person learning resumed. That night, five masked people dressed in black raided the house. At least one of them had a gun, and shot Tetlow twice through the head and killed her.
Tetlow’s family found out the next morning. “My brain and my heart just shattered,” Susannah Tetlow said of the moment she found out.
The police investigation is ongoing as the family figures out how to memorialize their daughter. A photo of Tetlow and her sister dressed up for homecoming has taken on a new meaning. Tetlow hated being alone and in the dark, so they all got necklaces with space for her ashes so she will always be with them. The family is also wearing turquoise bracelets that say, “Justice for Jesika,” and is hoping to start a foundation in her name.
Susannah Tetlow has also started attending a Thursday night meeting of grieving families at Roberta’s House in Baltimore. “It’s the kind of camaraderie you would not wish on your worst enemy,” Tetlow said of the group, which includes others who have also lost children.
But still, she has struggled to make sense of what happened.
“This is not normal. This is not normal for a city and a country to have so many shootings every day,” Susannah Tetlow said. “This is a human. This is my child. And now she’s gone.”