She’s driven these North Philadelphia streets thousands of times, her window open, no matter the weather. Elsa Alicea wants to be seen, to remind whoever might need reminding that even if her son’s murder remains unsolved five years after his death, his mother hasn’t given up.
One day, she hopes, someone might see her driving around the Hunting Park neighborhood where Luis Martin Alicea was shot on the 600 block of Rising Sun Avenue on Nov. 18, 2016, and finally be moved to speak up.
“Maybe me being around, they’ll see, they’ll see that I’m still looking,” she said.
And while it may not have been exactly as she envisioned, this week she got some support in the form of a billboard, soaring high above Fifth and Hunting Park, just a half-mile from where her 29-year-old son was killed.
She knew the billboard seeking information in her son’s murder was coming, but not when. So, when she drove past on Monday morning and saw her son’s face looking down at her, it was as much of a surprise as the call from a woman she never met.
Mykia Capers’ only son, Brandon Lamar Baylor, was also gunned down in Philadelphia, coincidentally just four days before Alicea’s son. Frustrated with a lack of answers from police and people who witnessed the shooting at the Johnson Homes public housing development, she put up her own billboard in 2018, offering a $30,000 reward for information in her son’s murder, $10,000 more than the city’s standard $20,000 reward for homicides.
While the billboard wasn’t what led to the arrests of two men now awaiting trial — that was due to her relentless efforts — it was her way of signaling to those grown numb by gun violence that these lives have not been forgotten. And despite getting closer to justice than most do in a city where a majority of homicides go unsolved, Capers wanted to help other mothers who haven’t been as fortunate by raising money to help get them their own billboards.
“People need to know that we are out here, that we haven’t forgotten about our children, even if this city has, and that we will never forget, we will never stop until we get justice.”
Capers called Alicea after reading about her in this column, one grieving mother moved by another grieving mother’s enduring ritual of visiting her son’s grave every morning to share a cup of coffee.
I’ve watched this column turn into a community, but it’s always inspiring to see the people highlighted in this space find their way to one another — to cheer each other on, to support one another, and often, to join efforts for causes they care about. (Another example: The second annual Parkway Plays for Peace tournament scheduled for Nov. 23, where Parkway Center City Middle College students will challenge Philadelphia police officers in a friendly game of flag football to raise money for Mothers Bonded by Grief.)
Capers arrived at the North Philadelphia billboard first, and took some photos she’d later post to Facebook. A few minutes later, Alicea arrived.
It would be the first time the women met in person.
“I’m Elsa!” Alicea said, reaching out for Capers.
“Thank you! Thank you!” Alicea repeated, as the women hugged beneath the billboard.
“You are so welcome,” Capers said. “So welcome.”
Alicea told Capers about how she’d been driving down the street the previous morning, as she so often does, when she was surprised by the billboard.
“I looked up and said, ‘Oh my God, that’s my son! That’s my son!’ I couldn’t believe it.”
Capers listened while Alicea talked about leaning into her faith since her son’s death. Church is her therapy, she said. “I pray a lot.”
She doesn’t hate the person who killed her son, but she wants his killer held accountable, and she wants to know why.
“Why did you do this? Why did you kill my son?”
Sometimes she fears she’ll never know. It’s been more than a year since she heard from the detective working on her son’s case, she said.
As the sound of the traffic on the busy street grew louder, Capers considered Alicea’s words.
“I’m not to the point you are, forgiving,” she said. “I believe in God, I believe God put me in this position to help others, but I can’t forgive. I don’t forgive.
“I just want people to put themselves in our shoes. That could be your family member on that billboard.”