The mother called to talk about her 24-year-old son, Ahmad Morales, shot while walking to a South Philadelphia corner store.
The wife sent a message on Instagram, and attached a gun-violence-prevention video made by her daughters just months after their father, Raheem Stoner, was shot and killed on April 8. Hours before his death, Stoner, 38, had learned that his mother had died of natural causes.
“This year in Philadelphia there have been over 150 murders,” his 16-year-old daughter, Cinnamon, said into the camera as she held a picture of her father, a carpenter for the city.
“My dad was number 99.”
The cofounder of a workforce development program emailed to share stories of three — three! — former participants, killed this year within months of one another: Jhaquil Aguilar, on March 29, Zafir Hall on May 6, and Michael Greene on July 8 — men all 30 and younger. The program has lost other participants to gun violence. But losing three during a pandemic feels especially cruel.
“It’s been a lot of loss in a short amount of time, and most of the rituals that we have to process we can’t do right now,” said Julia Hillengas, cofounder and executive director of PowerCorpsPHL.
On the phone an hour later was a cousin also mourning multiple losses. Two loved ones who died within weeks of each other this summer, Janeka Peace told me when we spoke: Tyreek Perrin, 32, and Shawn Best, 28. These after Peace formed an organization in the name of anther cousin, Rashawn “Shawnee” Anderson, 18, gunned down in 2011.
And then, a relative of a young mother sent an obituary on the very day she was being buried: Desiree Shaffer left behind five children.
On July 11, I wrote a column that listed the names of the people we’d lost to gun violence so far this year — at the time, 196. As of this writing, just two weeks later, it is 210. There will only be more. There always are.
At the very least, I had written, we should know the names of the people who have been gunned down in our city. Deaths that in a normal year are too often barely noted, and whose lives have been rendered even more invisible during a pandemic.
I invited their families and friends to reach out and tell me more. The calls and messages came, and keep coming.
People wanted to share the small details about their loved ones whose lives were cruelly cut short: their laugh, their deep love for their children, the obstacles that some were fighting to overcome, sometimes imperfectly.
From all the conversations, a theme emerged: potential, lost.
“It’s hard not to really feel what a loss that the greater world has had and what we missed when all these young people are taken from us and how much they could have given back to the world,” said Hillengas, the cofounder of the Philadelphia workforce program.
That weighed on Tamika Morales as we spoke.
Above all, she said, her son, Ahmad, was friendly and kind.
“Anybody who knew him already knows what kind of person he was, but when I saw his name in the paper I felt it was important for people to know that he was more than just a name in the newspaper of a guy who got murdered.”
Ahmad Morales, who was one of 19 people shot, nine fatally, during the July Fourth weekend, was also a natural at cutting hair. Even as he cleaned planes full time at the airport before he died on July 3, that remained his passion.
His murder, like almost half of all homicides last year, remains unsolved.
That will not stand with his mother, who is posting pleas on social media for anyone with information to come forward. She plans to plaster the site of his shooting with flyers, too.
Like so many mothers in Philadelphia, she will not rest until someone answers for killing her son.
“You know what I’ve been thinking about lately?” Morales said as our conversation wound down last week. “His children. I always thought that he would be the one to give me a grandchild. We used to joke about that. I think about him growing older and me seeing him with his son or daughter because …”
She stopped, but even over the phone I could hear her swallowing her tears.
“I think he would have been a really, really great dad.”