Every Kansas City homicide becomes a number, to be compared and contrasted with other numbers from other years and in other cities.
Right now leaders are watching the count breathlessly. Barring a very bloody stretch, the city should end 2014 with at least 25 percent fewer murders than last year. And although 64 persons have already fallen to violence, that will be a victory of sorts.
But for Latrice Murray and Lenora Williams, the numbers that matter are the ones burned into their scarred souls.
“He was Number 20 in 2009,” Murray said.
Her son, Darreon Murray-Brown, 17, a senior basketball player at Hogan Prep High School. A good kid, his teachers said. Personable. Not involved with gangs. College bound.
“My son was Number 54 in 2013,” said Williams.
Richard Preston III, 23, a graduate of Southeast High School. He’d earned a certificate in heating and cooling and was enrolling at the University of Missouri-Kansas City to obtain a degree in business management.
Both young men were shot and killed while out with friends. Murray-Brown died in the back seat of a car on Interstate 70 near Van Brunt Boulevard shortly after leaving a party. Preston was leaving a club near Troost Avenue and 86th Street. Neither homicide has been solved.
Williams and Murray are former Southwest High School graduates, class of 1989. Now their lives have crossed paths again, in the worst possible way. I listened and took notes one morning as they poured out their stories in the office of the Kansas City chapter of Mothers in Charge, a support and advocacy group for family members who have lost loved ones to violence.
Williams: “I got a call at 2:30 on a Saturday morning. A neighbor saw something on Facebook. She said, ‘something happened to Richard.’ I let out a scream so loud.”
Murray: “I was on my way home from work and his girlfriend called and said he got shot. I didn’t sleep for two days. I couldn’t even plan the funeral.”
Williams: “It was the worst feeling ever. I didn’t get to ID my son until the next day at Duane Harvey Funeral Home. When I saw him I begged God to raise him up. It hurt so bad because he was my first born. He was a mamma’s boy. He didn’t have a criminal record.”
Murray: “I never thought my son would become a statistic. My biggest concern was getting him to graduate.” We (family members) walked for him at his graduation.”
Williams: “No matter what I try to do I’m so empty. Every day it’s a constant thing. My son would be doing this, my son would be doing that. You hear his favorite Gospel song and you just cry. I’m like, ‘Oh God, when am I going to stop shedding tears?’”
Murray: “I don’t think the tears ever stop. You just learn to live. I try to stay busy and I have another child who needs me. I go to church every Sunday and it’s helped. ”
Williams: “It took me about four months to go back to church.”
Murray: “I can honestly say, this has been a good year. I had a good Mother’s Day. This was the first year that we didn’t cry at the cemetery.”
Williams: “On Richard’s birthday, we had a balloon release and eight doves flew overhead. They just flew off to the east. My auntie said, ‘that’s the Lord giving you a sign that Richard is at peace.’”
Murray quit her job after Darreon’s death but now works as a warehouse supervisor. Her daughter attends the University of Missouri at Columbia. Williams just found a job in technical support for a tax preparer. She too has a daughter, who attends UMKC. Both are active members of Mothers in Charge, and say the group has helped them find a focus.
They still hold out hope that someone will come forth and help police solve the murders of their sons.
Murray: “Yes, that would bring some kind of closure to know that somebody is held responsible when my son is dead.”
Williams: “And he’s not out there killing anybody else.”
We should all hope for a “good” homicide count this year. But for the mothers, one murder changes everything.