By Michael E. Miller
By Ryan Yousefi
By Kyle Munzenrieder
By Sabrina Rodriguez
By Michael E. Miller
By Carlos Suarez De Jesus
By Luther Campbell
By Kyle Munzenrieder
He's a bloody mess.
His knee is torn up in three places. His forearm is crusted with dried blood. His shoulder is drenched in antiseptic, the Day-Glo orange smeared over a nasty road rash. He has a thin brown cigarette in one hand and holds a cell phone to his ear with the other. And he's smiling. Fresh from crashing a motorcycle, RJ, shirtless and without a helmet, picked himself off the pavement, pulled out his Nokia, and called Kaytlynn.
Kaytlynn is the reason he's smiling. "Baby," he told her, "I just laid the bike down."
Still on the phone, he stumbled into the Overtown loft where he'd been staying with friends off and on since moving to Miami from Virginia one month earlier. He asked for a cigarette, a beer, and for one of his friends to snap a photo of him so he could show Kaytlynn what the crash had done to his body. Kaytlynn later commented on the photo in a feedback section on his Web profile. "RJ knows that he's the perfect example of how I like my men, hardcore and bleeding!"
The two had met on the Internet earlier that month. By mid-December they'd had just one date, but they were both madly in love. After a self-imposed deadline of New Year's Eve, RJ and Kaytlynn were planning to spend the rest of their lives together.
But four days into the new year, one of RJ's roommates returned from the holidays, opened the door to the loft apartment, and found him laid out on the living-room floor. He was staring at the ceiling, eyes open, his bloated face contorting the pierced eyebrow and studded chin, betraying his former good looks -- the looks that had him flirting with a modeling career in California a few years earlier.
In his hand was his cell phone, the phone on which he'd logged 4057 minutes since the last billing period, thousands of them spent talking to Kaytlynn -- the last minute being a call to 911 at 11:57 p.m. on New Year's Eve.
The police officers who arrived at the scene January 4 initially tagged his death as a drug overdose. A young guy with a back full of tattoos and a face full of piercings dead on New Year's Eve in a loft in a part of town known as a haven for the drug trade? Had to be an overdose. They collected little evidence and told RJ's roommates to clean up the place.
For two more days his body lay on a slab at the Miami-Dade County Medical Examiner's Office. On the third day, when a county medical examiner performed RJ's autopsy, the cause of death became clear -- a gunshot wound to the chest -- and the case was declared a homicide. Police scurried back to interview his friends and salvage what evidence they could, but RJ's killer remains undetected, unpunished, unknown.
The only thing known with certainty is that while millions of champagne-soaked revelers swapped sloppy kisses and swayed to "Auld Lang Syne," filled with all the hopes and dreams that a new year holds, a 27-year-old with the world on a string lay dying on a floor in Overtown.
Romance in Cyberspace "RJ? That dude was somewhere between Shaggy and Gilligan," says Jason "Tino" Anthony, RJ's best friend from back home in Virginia. "He just wasn't malicious enough to have enemies."
The shirt-off-my-back kind of friend everyone had in high school, RJ made up for his lack of ambition with rock-steady loyalty and a carefree spirit. Those who knew him describe a young man who spent his days "chillin'." Listening to music. Drinking a 40-ounce beer.
A native of Richmond, he'd done a stint in the Air Force and drifted out to L.A. before returning to the D.C. area and landing occasional jobs in lighting installation at local nightclubs. He also learned to DJ, taking the name DJ Skywalker when he found the work.
When two of his friends, Christian Webb and Stefan VonFouts, moved to Miami in 2003 to start a design and architecture firm, RJ began staring south. Webb and VonFouts, both 30 years old, signed a lease on a second-floor residential loft, one of two in the Rectangle Art Space, a featureless concrete bunker of a building on NW Twentieth Street, where Overtown meets Wynwood. It was roomy enough to accommodate RJ, who'd arrived in Miami in early October with just a cell phone, some clothes, his records, and the hopes of landing a gig doing lighting installation and repair at area nightclubs. Sometimes he would stay a week or more at a time, when he wasn't crashing elsewhere.
"He was a gypsy," says Webb. "He could sleep in someone's bathroom just as easily as in a queen-size bed. In a way, you had to respect him for it 'cause he couldn't be happier."
Adds best friend Tino Anthony: "The last thing I said to him [before he left for Florida] was, 'Wherever you end up, dude, you need to start taking something seriously.'"