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India Epps, the mother of one of 2019's murder victims Tionne Jones, calls for an end to the bloodshed in Baltimore.

India Epps was dressed in a black shirt and black pants with gold letters painted across her chest spelling out her son’s name.

Tionne Jones.

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The 22-year-old black man was gunned down in late November on the same street where his mother decided to now lead a rally for his life.

Epps spread her message Friday evening while battling chilly temperatures on the corner of the 1900 block of Greenmount Ave. Jones became a symbol to many in 2016, when he stood defiantly at his front door, refusing to let Baltimore police into his home when they didn’t have a warrant and his mother wasn’t home.

Epps fearlessly grabbed a red and white megaphone and stood in front of a crowd of people as a life-size cut out of her son was placed on nearby steps. A framed image memorializing Jones’ life was displayed behind her. Many of the people, consisting of Epps’ close family and friends, held signs reading “Justice for Tionne” on the block as cars passed by.

For Epps, the rally was not only about her son, but also for other Baltimore mothers who have lost children to gun violence over the years.

“These murders are out of control, we are losing our babies here. These are senseless murders,” Epps said in an interview.

“This city is bleeding and I want to bring awareness to what is going on here. It is not just my son that was murdered out here in this city, so collectively as a city we need to come together. We need to get serious about what is going on."

Lovette Hillard, 39, was standing with her children close to her side during the rally. She said she has been friends with Epps since June and since then, she has become like “family.”

Hillard said Jones’s death was horrible and, being that she has sons of her own, his killing hit home for her.

“Tionne, he didn’t deserve this,” Hillard said. “He was trying to put inspirational messages out there with his music and I am just heartbroken about it.”

Michael Gaffney said he never got a chance to meet Jones, but his wife, who has known Epps for more than 10 years, was the reason he came to the rally.

Gaffney said he has also been a victim of gun violence and he is happy he is still alive to this day.

“I have been shot in these same city streets. So at the end of the day I feel like it is only right for me to be here and support,” Gaffney said.

Since Jones was killed, Epps says she has connected with mothers navigating their way through the same grief.

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“I hate the scenario had to be me losing my kid, but it has led to me caring about everyone’s kid,” Epps said in a recent interview.

Epps shares the same painful reality of losing young sons too soon as Kimberly Harris.

Harris’ son, Kevin Black, was killed just two days before Jones. Both Epps and Harris, who are enduring together and alone their constant grief, also share the same hope: That voicing their pain and rallying Baltimore residents will keep more mothers from losing a child to gun violence.

Harris had just gotten home around 8:30 Wednesday evening with her two children after a counseling session with Roberta’s House.

Sitting at her dining room table recently, she recalled watching at a town hall meeting one night where Epps was speaking, noting that her son, Jones, was the 311th homicide victim of 2019.

Harris, who talked with a friend, remembered that her son, Kevin, was the 310th victim killed, just two days earlier in November.

She reached out to Epps through Instagram. They spent the whole day talking to each other, Harris said.

Now, while working through her grieving process, she is looking for more answers from the police department surrounding her son’s death.

“I just feel like they should be telling me more,” Harris said, adding she has heard many unconfirmed rumors in the neighborhood about who is responsible, but no details from the police.

Baltimore Police said in a statement that detectives have to keep much of what they know quiet, even from the families. Part of that is for safety — “Retaliatory violence is a very real thing," police spokeswoman Nicole Monroe said. Sharing too much can also hurt the chances of solving a case, she said, although the department understands families and friends can grow frustrated.

“As a result investigators usually don’t share information about the case until an arrest has been made,” Monroe said. “When a homicide detective tells family members of a murder victim that the case is progressing, or that we are following up leads, it is of little comfort.”

Kimberly Harris holds a photo of her son Kevin Black, a 21-year-old who was shot and killed on Nov. 22 in the 2300 block of Monticello Road.
Kimberly Harris holds a photo of her son Kevin Black, a 21-year-old who was shot and killed on Nov. 22 in the 2300 block of Monticello Road. (Phillip Jackson)

After he was wrongfully arrested, Jones filed a lawsuit against Baltimore police and the officer who he said assaulted him. Jones’ attorney, Anton Lemele, said the case is continuing at Epps’ request.

“At this point things change a little bit and what I am trying to do now, for purposes of his mother, is to continue the case,” Lemele said.

Lemele believes over the course of three years, Jones has fallen victim to two unfortunate circumstances — an unlawful arrest and a violent killing.

“He [Tionne] is a twice-burned victim of circumstance and it is a really difficult and sad commentary for what we have going on in the city,” Lemele said.

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