Anrae James used to tell his younger brother Armond, “If you treat people nice, you’ll always be blessed.” Armond looked up to his brother always and knew he could count on him being present, no matter the endeavor, he said.
Now the phrase will serve as part of James’ legacy and a bittersweet reminder for all who loved him.
The 43-year-old nursing assistant and part-time barber, whom many called Rae, was identified by his family on Monday as the victim in an early morning shooting at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital. Those who knew him described him as a family man who worked two jobs to support his three kids and a jokester with a talent for bringing people together around his barber’s chair.
“One of the best [barbers] in Uptown,” said his friend Lyndell Mason. “That’s what we called him.”
William James got the devastating news about his son early Monday morning. Every two weeks, he said, James would come to his house in Elkins Park and cut his hair, never taking money even when he offered it. The pair would talk about everything from his kids to sports.
“That’s some of the best times for me, where we sit down for those couple hours,” said William James, 69.
James also lived in Elkins Park, with his wife and two daughters, ages 2 and 17, and a son, 11, according to his father.
“My son’s legacy is his kids,” William James said, describing a recent photo of James proudly posing with his son at the start of his second season of football.
The suspect in the shooting, a 55-year-old man and also a Jefferson nursing assistant, fled the scene Monday in a U-Haul van and ended up in a shootout with Philadelphia police in Parkside an hour later, Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw said. He was arrested and hospitalized in critical condition after police shot him in the body and neck. Law enforcement sources identified him as Stacey Hayes.
Hayes and James were friends, said Saud Salahuddin, a patient transporter at Jefferson and childhood friend of James. “That’s why it’s hard for me to comprehend what happened,” said Salahuddin, 42, describing how the three of them would discuss sports during their down time.
James cut hair in North Philly barbershops for the last two decades, after graduating from barber school, said Jarrod Johnson, a manager at Custom Cutz, where James worked three days a week.
He cut back on barbering when he went full time at Jefferson, his friends said.
At the hospital, James first worked in environmental services, cleaning rooms, and got his nursing assistant certification in 2006, state records show. At Jefferson, nursing assistants hired before 2018 make about $25 an hour, according to the Jefferson contract with the National Union of Hospital and Health Care Employees Local 1199C.
James worked an overnight shift, from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m., sometimes going to the hospital after his shift at the barbershop. It made sense for him because it meant he could keep cutting hair, as well as bring his kids to school and be there when they got home, his friends said.
James was one of five siblings — he had two sisters and two brothers. The drive to work multiple jobs and support his family, even with long and odd hours, comes from their parents, said Armond. Their mother, Janet, worked at Jefferson as a secretary in the maternity ward until she retired, and their father is a retired SEPTA bus driver.
Jefferson held a special place in their lives, as Janet and William met there, Armond said.
James had a knack for connecting people, said Ahmad Henry, who had been getting haircuts from James since 1998.
They called him The RZA, “Razor Rae,” an homage to the Wu-Tang Clan member that put the group together, because it was through James that they all met. “We’re all just huddled around his station,” said Henry, 38.
His last cut by James was Friday.
James loved to debate in the shop, his friends said. He loved the Steelers. He loved Nas. And he’d fight with anyone and everyone about it.
Incredibly close and religious in their younger days, his brother said he was shocked that gun violence has fractured his tight-knit family. As a teacher at South Philadelphia High School, he is normally a grief counselor for his students when things like this happen. But now the roles have shifted and he’s the one in need of such support.
William James said his son had a way of figuring things out and seeing the world through many eyes, often pushing his father to put himself in the shoes of others.
“It was a beautiful, beautiful thing,” William said. “And I ain’t gon’ have that no more. I’m not going to have that.”
That loss angers William, and he’s unable to fully process the grief as he strives to hold his family and his son’s family together.
“It’s just not fair,” he said.
Staff writers Barbara Laker, Chris Palmer, Anna Orso, and Rob Tornoe contributed to this article.