Kansas City mother on a mission seeks information in son’s murder
08/27/2014 8:40 PM
08/28/2014 10:51 AM
That’s how Monique Willis has been identifying herself since shortly after someone gunned down her son, Alonzo “Zoe” Thomas IV, on April 5 near Wayne Avenue and Gregory Boulevard.
No arrests have been made. Willis has resolved to keep the memory of her only child alive amid the numbing litany of news involving Kansas City shooting deaths, especially those involving young African-American men. With a social media campaign, a reward fund and street-level efforts such as handing out fliers on sidewalks and at high-traffic intersections, she has continued to place the face of her son before Kansas City drivers, shoppers and online surfers.
“I have not been sitting quietly,” Willis said recently.
“Even though my son is gone, I still need to make sure to maintain his legacy and his memory. What has happened to my son can happen to another son, by the same individual who is still out on the streets.”
Police found Thomas’ body on a Wayne Avenue front porch early that Saturday afternoon.
Willis was in Arkansas, visiting family, when she responded to a voicemail on her cellphone from one of Alonzo’s friends. “He told me that Alonzo had been shot. I asked ‘Is he OK?’
“He said ‘He didn’t make it.’’’
Willis packed up and, with her mother and a friend, drove six hours back to Kansas City.
Details were few. Thomas either had been standing and talking to several occupants of a car, or had been briefly sitting in the car. But at least one of those people shot Thomas.
“Robbery wasn’t a motive,” Willis said. “He still had money in his pocket.” Her son also had just a certain number of friends and acquaintances, she said.
“That’s why he probably knew the person who shot him.”
Days after the shooting, Willis heard a knock on her door. She opened it to find Rosilyn Temple, president of the KC Chapter of Mothers in Charge, whose members advocate against violence. Soon Temple became one of many former strangers who joined Willis’ efforts to find her son’s killer.
Willis now is one of 14 Kansas City area mothers of homicide victims whom Temple checks on each week.
“We are losing our children,” said Temple, whose son Antonio Thompson was shot and killed in November 2011. It’s her intent, she said, to be a source of support for those mothers whose profound sorrow continues as the calendar dates of their children’s deaths — most have been men — grow more distant.
Thankfully, Temple said, the number of Kansas City homicides has declined this year. Through Tuesday, the count stood at 42, compared with 67 at this time last year, about a 37 percent decrease.
And yet Willis’ son was a member of the city’s most endangered demographic group: young black men. About 31 percent — or 13 of this year’s homicides — have been black males age 17 to 24.
Thomas was 20 years old.
Late one afternoon last week, Willis walked into a Troost Avenue storefront and placed a white cardboard box on the table before her.
The lid of the box read “MommaOnAMission.”
On Thursdays, members of Eternal Life Church convene in their Troost Avenue headquarters. Agenda items last week included the “Taking Back Our Neighborhood” fair scheduled two days later at Ashland Square Park in Kansas City. Members agreed to stand at several stations at the event, passing out fliers on the Alonzo Thomas case.
“How many fliers did we hand out the other day?” asked Bishop Tony Caldwell, an Eternal Life Church coordinator.
Willis opened the box. Inside were fresh fliers bearing two photographs of her son and the words “Reward $3,000” printed in red.
“One thousand,” she said, and began handing out stacks.
Willis didn’t formally address group members. But it would be a mistake to underestimate her tenacity, Caldwell had said before the meeting.
“She’s a unique person,” he said. Over the years, he said, his organization has helped several families in crisis, including some who have lost a loved one to violence and sought justice.
“And after a month, sometimes, people will kind of taper off,” he said.
Not Willis, he said.
“She has actually picked up speed,” Caldwell said. “In turn, that has caused us to help her even more.”
Almost every day after finishing work at a Northland manufacturing company, she continues her social media campaign.
Visitors accessing Willis’ Pinterest postings browse summaries of her son’s life from infancy forward, including visits to Santa Claus and Webelo pack meetings. They learn how he had earned his graduate equivalent degree, had taken classes at ITT Technical Institute and sometimes held his 2-year-old daughter, Zoey, on his lap while they watched television.
She has prepared fliers in which her son speaks in the first person, addressing the reader directly. “I am a Kansas City homicide victim,” one reads. “Although I knew who my killer was, I am not here to help identify them or see to it that they are tried and prosecuted...”
Cristin Stammler, the Kansas City police homicide detective investigating the case, remains confident about the investigation.
“We are still actively working the case, looking at physical evidence and trying to locate those who may have information,” Stammler said. Reward funds like the $3,000 offered in the Thomas case often are effective, he added.
Several anonymous tips on the Thomas case have come in through the Greater Kansas City Crime Stoppers TIPS Hotline, said Detective Kevin Boehm, the program’s coordinator. The hotline is offering a reward of up to $2,000 that is separate from the $3,000 Willis has raised.
Several Kansas City community organizations have assisted Willis in distributing fliers at different intersections this summer.
“I’ve made sure that she has fliers at every event,” said Pat Clarke, a community activist who also serves as a liaison for Kansas City Police Chief Darryl Forté.
It’s possible, he said, that just one flier handed to a certain person at just the right moment could prompt a phone call.
“Somebody out there knows something,” Clarke said. “Sometimes it just takes a little while for things like this to wear down on somebody. At some point, somebody will be worn down and call.”
The online fundraising reward campaign established by Willis at gofundme.com remains active.
But much of Willis’ work on her son’s behalf has been at street level.
On Saturday, she passed out fliers at the Ashland Square Park carnival, where she met Chief Forté. The chief, Willis said, promised a meeting with himself and the detectives working the case. It was the most recent of several summer weekend days that Willis has spent passing out fliers, sometimes at busy intersections.
Some volunteers have stood in the middle of the street, approaching drivers directly.
For all the fliers she carries around, it’s not easy for her to pass them out, Willis said.
“It’s overwhelming, the fact that I am on a street corner with complete strangers fighting for my son,” she said. “We get a lot of positive reaction, but I am a low-key person, typically in the background.
“I have a voice but I only utilize my voice when something needs to be said. So now I am using my voice on my son’s behalf.
“If no one else does it, his mother has to.”
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