This past Sunday, a tourist from New York was gunned down on Ocean Drive around 7 a.m., just as South Beach was waking up. Shot two times outside iconic sidewalk restaurant News Cafe, the young man was taken to Jackson Memorial Hospital, where he later died.
This morning, Miami Beach Police identified the victim as Lavon B. Walker — a 30-year-old community activist who spent the last years of his life working to end gun violence in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn.
Once a self-described drug dealer and robber, Walker said a pastor helped him turn his life around. After high school, he began working with Save Our Streets, an organization working to end gun violence through mediating conflicts and mentoring young people.
"We find out what their needs are — anything that’s going to gear them or shift them to a different mentality toward gun violence," he told the New York Times in 2010. "We become like their bigger brothers, even closer than their fathers."
As a founding member of the Save Our Streets team in Crown Heights, he was later promoted to outreach supervisor, responsible for a team of seven. His boss, Crown Heights Community Mediation Center director Amy Ellenbogen, said Monday that Walker leaves behind a wife and two young children, including a 2-month-old.
"He mediated many disputes, and he was an inspirational speaker, as well and a father and husband," she told New Times. "It's shocking, it's numbing, and we're all in a state of disbelief."
Ellenbogen said Walker was in Miami to clear his head after going through a number of personal tragedies. His co-workers have struggled to make sense of the shooting, saying they can see no possible motive.
"We're really at a loss. We really don't know what this was about," Ellenbogen said.
To those who knew him, Walker was the type of guy who would "risk his own life to save another person," Ellenbogen says, to the point where his boss occasionally had to warn him to be careful. "Lavon, you're not invincible," she would tell him.
Despite their devastation, Walker's colleagues now feel a renewed sense of urgency in their mission following his untimely death.
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"We are all so much more deeply committed to ending gun violence in his name, and we hope others will do the same," Ellenbogen said. "All of us are optimists that the plague of gun violence will come to an end, but situations like this are really heartbreaking."
Detectives haven’t yet determined a possible motive for the killing. As of Monday, police were looking for three men who might have been involved, saying they fled the area in a white Jeep Grand Cherokee with tinted windows after the shooting. Anyone with information that could help police is asked to call Crime Stoppers at 305-471-TIPS.
Ellenbogen said fundraising details for Walker's family would be released at a later time.