No murder takes place in a bubble. Those killed by the hand of another leave behind other victims – sons and daughters without a parent, parents without children, sisters without brothers.
Perlia Bell, director of Senseless Violence Leads to Silence,
sits in her office, which is filled with photos of families,
victims and news clippings of the murder and
investigation of her daughter's murder.
For four years now, Perlia Bell has been trying to change the way the Black community treats these left-behind victims.
After her 23-year-old daughter Asia's murder in 2002, Bell was wracked with a sense of being overwhelmed. Her son-in-law, Asia's husband Tyrone James, was blinded in the attack, and the couple's four young children left without a mother. At first, right after the murder, Bell and her family received plenty of community support. But eventually people forget, they go on with their lives and the support dries up.
Unfortunately, Bell's story is not unique. Portland's African American community has been hit hard by violent crimes, and many of those cases are never solved.
Perlia says there's a culture of silence in the community – one that encourages victims to keep their grieving and thoughts about their loved ones death to themselves.
"We were taught that everything was going to be OK. We didn't tell people our business," she says.
But burying the pain doesn't make it go away.
"I know people who lost someone 10 years ago who are in a fetal position, who still don't have social lives," Bells says.
Her daughter's murder was listed as a cold case for more than four years. To help keep her daughter's memory alive, and to help victims and their loved ones heal after similarly violent acts, Bell launched Senseless Violence Leads to Silence, a nonprofit organization offering grief counseling, support groups, family conflict outreach and an annual march. She has helped parents, siblings and other relatives come to grips with their loved one's absence.
On March 9, police made four arrests in Asia Bell's murder. Perlia Bell, sitting behind a glass-topped desk in her north Portland office, surrounded by photos and news clippings of the victims, crimes and families she deals with on a daily basis says she doesn't deserve all the credit for keeping the case alive – but she does deserve some. She made a conscious decision to make her daughter a household name so detectives wouldn't forget about her, and to help give other victim's families hope. She also decided to hold a march against violence in her daughter's name.
"When I picked up that sign five years ago, I didn't think it would help solve the case," she says.
Contrary to what some people might think, Bell says she never bribed, conned or put undue influence on the police investigating her daughter's case. She did put constant pressure on the community to say something, anything that could help find the killers. And she continues to fight on behalf of other families. Her message to the Black community is this: serving as a witness to a violent crime is different than being a snitch.
"I don't want you to say something that would hurt (a loved one's) child," she says.
"If I always told my grandkids, 'Don't go out and say nothing … Don't you ever go talk to the police,'" she asked hypothetically. "How will they react when they witness a crime?"
"We not only need to help those kids," Bell says. "We need to work on Grandma, (because) these families have a right to know who killed their loved ones."
"Their father ain't coming home"
left: David and Florida Moaning, the father and
stepmother of Jermaine Davis, want to know
who killed their son two hours after midnight on
New Year's Day.
David Moaning desperately wants to know who killed his son.
Sitting with his wife, Florida Moaning, in Bell's office off North Columbia Avenue, Moaning is still visibly reeling from the shooting of his son, Jermaine Nyron Davis, 23. Davis was killed two hours after midnight in Downtown on New Year's Eve, the first person to be murdered in Portland in 2007.
"It's heartbreaking, just everyday, living, walking through the house … just hearing things," Florida, Davis' stepmother, says. "It's put a lot of pressure on our family and our marriage."
The Moanings have dealt with Davis' death in their own way — David in silence, Florida with words.
Davis' 3-year-old twins, Aaron and Am'Mariah, will never know their father. Aaron, is taking his father's absence especially hard, Florida says.
"I don't think they've grasped what's happened, they just know their father ain't coming home," David Moaning says.
David and Florida describe their son as a quiet, loving man of few words who was on the verge of asking the mother of his children and childhood sweetheart, Hope Johnson, to marry him. He was working a full-time job at the airport, but hoped to follow in his dad's footsteps as a carpenter.
"My pain is everybody else's pain; his brothers, his cousins, his nieces, his nephews, his kids; I'm always thinking about how they feel, I already know how I feel," David says. "Everybody talks about how much they miss him. It's never going to get better, we just have to live off of what has been."
What hurts David and Florida the most is knowing that the murder occurred in the middle of a busy Downtown intersection – right in front of the Greek Cusina Restaurant at Fourth Avenue and Southwest Washington Street – yet few witnesses have stepped forward.
They are also troubled that Davis' first cousin stood right next to him when he was shot – so close that he was struck in the face by the shooter's gun – and hasn't identified the shooter. David believes Davis' cousin knows who the shooters were – mainly because his story has changed four or five times since the shooting.
"He's the only eyewitness we have, the only eyewitness we know about," Florida says.
David pleads for anyone with information to come forward.
"Nobody wants to be a snitch. It's not snitching, it's doing something right," David says. "The same person could turn around and end up doing something to them."
David requests that anyone with any information regarding his son's case leave a message on his home phone at 503-288-1817.
"It's gotta change"
Eyo Nyong hugs his mother, Veronica Davis shortly
before his murder in July of 2005.
Like other parents interviewed for this story, Veronica Davis never expected her son to die such a violent death.
Although some of his relatives belonged to local gangs, Eyo Nyong, 26, did not. In fact, his father, Eyo "Henry" Nyong, is a Nigerian immigrant with royalty in his family tree, and the younger Nyong was considered a Nigerian prince.
But Davis knew all too well that gangs appeal to young Black men. She always told her son she would do anything to keep him away from street violence. "I would plant something (drugs) on you before I let you get killed," Davis remembers telling her son.
Nyong – or "Black" as he was known to his friends — was shot in the head at 9:50 p.m. on July 27, 2005 near LV's Sports Bar/12-22 Club on North Vancouver Avenue while talking with two individuals outside the bar. According to police accounts, there had been no fight, no argument, and Davis said Eyo knew the person, a man by the name of Marcus, who called him over to the spot. To this day, no one has identified the shooter in the case.
At the time, Davis was living in Vancouver's Cascadia neighborhood.
"My twin sister called me and said you need to get down to (LV's)," Davis says. "Somebody had shot him and he had blood coming out of his mouth. I just started praying, I just prayed all the way there … (but) I knew he was already dead. I knew that."
Like the Moanings and Perlia Bell, Davis is shocked by the fact that witnesses are out there, enclosed in a culture that promotes silence over "snitches."
"Those involved … someone knows who did it, it's more than one person," Davis says. "Because of how Black people were raised, you're given the snitch jacket put on you. It's gotta change, it's gotta change. No family member should have to walk around that long. Portland's too small. A mom has to walk around wondering, 'Are they ever going to catch these people?' My baby didn't deserve to be shot down like that, because he didn't bother nobody. When it came to fighting he'd say, 'Let's go heads up.' There wasn't no gun."
Like Asia Bell, Nyong's death has its silent victims. Nyong leaves behind five children – Eyo III, 8; Desere, 7; Kayzell, 4; Ayanna, 1; and Eyoleyah, 1.
In the wake of her son's murder, Davis has found comfort in people like Perlia Bell.
"If it wasn't for her (Bell) and her organization, I probably wouldn't have (anyone) to talk to besides God, because she knows," Davis says.
And, like other parents who live on after their children are gone, Davis is trying to bring some good into the world in the memory of her son.
A minister for the past eight years, Davis is used to going from church to church, preaching the gospel. Now she hopes to start a college scholarship program and nonprofit choir group in her son's honor – the Eyo Nyong College Foundation and Jesus' Kids Mass Choir, respectively.
She hopes to change young people's minds about street life by targeting youth ages 5 to 21 with her ministries and scholarships.
"The young people don't get it," she says. "They don't care if you're dead. If we make enough noise, things can be different."
Turning tragedy into hope
Reba Strickland (left) with Ricky Emery at her North
Portland nonprofit agency Project Hope. Strickland,
whose son Isaiah was murdered in November
of 2003, gave Emery a job and a chance
to go back to school, despite felonies on his record.
Ricky Emery was someone in need of a helping hand. Dropping out of high school at the age of 15, he landed himself in jail on a couple of felony charges, one of which was a gun charge, and then he got his fiancé pregnant.
With a criminal record, Emery said it was virtually impossible to find a job.
Then he met Reba Strickland.
Today, Emery is a manager at Strickland's work-to-school nonprofit, Project Hope, a nonprofit business that sells everything from furniture to jeans to help disadvantaged kids work while earning a diploma or college credit. Strickland even has an eBay store in back where workers price merchandise, photograph it, organize it and post it on the auction Web site.
Before being in charge of her own nonprofit, Strickland was a nurse at St. Vincent's Hospital. She was in the midst of helping her cousin, Perlia Bell, cope with Asia's murder when her own life came crumbling down around her.
On Nov. 2, 2003, Strickland's 17-year-old son, Isaiah, was shot and killed shortly after midnight on Northeast 7th Avenue and Fremont Street. A man wearing a puffy parka with a fur-lined hood allegedly pulled the trigger after a fight occurred at a nearby party. Although some news reports say Isaiah had been affiliated with gangs, Reba Strickland said things she heard at the boy's funeral indicated a young man with a positive influence.
"I didn't realize he was advocating what he believed, that he was preaching about making better choices," she says, after friends and classmates told her what a wonderful person Isaiah had been.
The murder completely changed her outlook on life, Strickland says.
"It made me see what these kids were doing with their lives," she says.
While no program working with troubled teens is perfect – she's had to fire five workers for various infractions – Strickland is always willing to give them a second chance. She's also willing to help them with the little aspects of life – providing information about financial management, buying the occasional bus pass or helping them find an affordable apartment.
"Eventually, you're going to get somebody to leave here with not only skills, but the ability to achieve their dreams," she says.
With more applicants than money, Strickland has tried some creative ways of finding jobs for some of these teens. She recently partnered with a local Albertson's grocery store, where the manager agreed to hire 20 of her applicants for summer jobs.
"I have a good 40 kids (who want jobs)," Strickland says. "But I can't help them because we don't have the money to hire them."
Police and Reba Strickland have said they believe they know who Isaiah's killer is, but the murder remains unsolved.
Strickland says creating something positive out of something so negative has helped her recover. Although she was a nurse who helped people every day before opening Project Hope, she admits that helping troubled youth rebuild their lives is much more rewarding.
A lot of people help these children fail, Strickland says but "no one has ever told them how to succeed."
To achieve success, they have to see the path to success, she says.
"I have to give them a vision — you too can have one of those houses on the hill."
Perlia Bell plans to hold this year's anti-violence march on Sept. 8 to remember Portland's victims of murder — solved and unsolved — and to tell the community that a culture of silence merely breeds more violence.
Recently, as a White visitor was stepping out of Bell's office, she asked him, "If I stepped out of here and was run down by a car, what would you do?"
"I'd tell the cops everything I saw," he said.
"See," Bell said, pointing out the cultural divide. "That's the difference."