The eighth-grade science teacher grabbed two plastic bags from her car and used them to pick up the plastic wrappers, bottle caps and discarded spoons that littered the ground around the basketball court in Edgewood.
“I just don’t know what else to do,” Ellen Montoya said Saturday evening.
In a few minutes would begin a vigil for 15-year-old Khalil Lephonzo Johnson, who was killed nearby on the Fourth of July. Friends, family and former teachers remembered “Triple L” and “Lil Bro,” a boy who wanted to be just like his brothers, who played basketball and defense and offensive tackle in football, whose smile lit up the room.
“He was taller than all of us, even when he was little,” said Karen Cunningham, a counselor at Edgewood Elementary School. “He would come to us for hugs.”
Harford County authorities said Khalil was fatally shot in the area of Brookside Drive and Eloise Lane. A large group of people — including teens — was present at the time. Police have described the killing as a targeted attack.
“Me and my son watched the fireworks from my bedroom window,” said neighbor Valencia Curtis. She was afraid to let her boy, 11, leave the house.
A spokeswoman for Mothers of Murdered Sons, who organized the vigil, urged teens to come to police with information about Khalil’s killing. “ ‘Stop snitchin’ is dead,” shouted Mildred Samy, co-founder of MOMS. Her own son was killed nearby in 2007, and reaching out to other parents helps her cope with her own grief, she said.
While she spoke, a group of teens and young adults dribbled a basketball, shooting hoops. On the court, empty bottles of sangria and ceramic figurines of angels formed a makeshift shrine to their slain friend. “He was my little brother,” said Tyrone Mckisset, 21.
“Seems like they try to please the streets more than they try to please the adults,” said neighbor James Willis. “Somebody know who did it.” His own son, Thailek Willis, 19, was killed last year in the parking lot of Edgewood High School. The boys charged in his death were 15 and 16.
“I still feel him around the house,” Willis said. Whenever he sees a cardinal, he knows it’s a signal from his son telling him he’s OK. From his pocket he pulled out his phone to show a picture he’d taken of a red bird resting on barbed wire. He’d seen it while he was at work as a truck driver. A message.
Addressing the crowd, Khalil’s brother Daviyon Johnson began simply: repeating the dates his brother was alive.
“November 26, 2003, to July 4, 2019.”