Death of a Warrior

At 7:00 a.m. Christmas morning, Eva Hilbert brushed the sleep from her eyes, threw on her bathrobe, and ambled into the kitchen. She glanced at the Christmas tree, making sure the kids hadn't peeked prematurely at the presents. As she walked by Jarvis's room she noticed he wasn't in his bed and made a mental note to talk with him again about staying out late.

At 8:00 a.m. Hilbert was boiling collard greens and macaroni while a ham baked in the oven. She heard a knock at the door and opened it to find a big man in a suit and tie on her stoop with two of Jarvis's friends in tow.

"Miss Hilbert, I have something bad to tell you," Miami Police Sgt. Willie Everett said. "Please sit down."

In the numb aftermath Hilbert abandoned her cooking. She called her sister, Lillian, who arrived a few minutes later. Then Hilbert put on her coat and the two women drove into the still and empty morning, making their way south from Opa-locka to the trauma unit at Jackson Memorial Hospital. A nurse directed them through a set of double doors, and they walked down a hallway and found a closed door. Hilbert stayed outside while Lillian entered the room. When Lillian exited she nodded grimly.

The bullet-pierced body on the table was indeed fifteen-year-old Jarvis Hilbert.

Jarvis's murder on the corner of NW 48th Street and Second Avenue completed a cycle of drugs, disease, violence, and prison that had claimed two members of his family. In 1987 his father, Robert Lee James, perished of AIDS in prison while doing twenty years on an armed-robbery charge. And his oldest brother Andre Robinson is serving 24 years to life for shooting his mother's former boyfriend. If Jarvis Hilbert learned one lesson from the men in his family, it's that tomorrows aren't guaranteed.

Jarvis grew up around so much violence that it rubbed off on him. Four months before his own death, in fact, he sold drugs to a woman who, while attempting to escape from police, crashed into another car and killed a twelve-year-old boy.

Jarvis was Miami's 91st homicide in 1998, but his murder wasn't the last one of the year, or even the day. Two hours after he was shot, a man was gunned down less than twenty blocks away from the spot where Jarvis fell. The year ended with 94 homicides in the city. Jarvis's death occurred during an intense six-month spate of violence that included twelve killings and the wounding of at least seven people. Police and the press attributed the brutality to the "Liberty City Drug Wars."

Jarvis's death follows a common pattern. In Miami-Dade more than 450 kids younger than age eighteen have been killed by guns since 1980. Even now, amid historic declines in homicide rates (Miami's is the lowest since 1977), young black men between the ages of fifteen and twenty-four are being killed at about ten times the rate of white men.

It's precisely because Jarvis's death was so typical — a teenage black boy killed while dealing drugs — that it's significant. Jarvis was not as clearly a victim as Marie Lourdy Joseph, the twelve-year-old girl killed by a stray bullet during a drive-by shooting at an Allapattah flea market this past March. But to understand his world is to gain insight into a decades-old inner-city crisis that belies all the promising statistics.

Something, or someone, failed Jarvis. Maybe it was the social worker assigned to visit the family after the boy was arrested for selling drugs this past fall. Or maybe it was his mother, who couldn't keep him off the street. Or maybe school officials, who allowed him to stray from the classroom, are to blame. Or maybe it was Jarvis himself, a headstrong boy who tried to become a man too quickly.

It's three weeks after Jarvis's death and a band of his friends gathers in the smoky-orange dusk on NW Thirteenth Avenue and 55th Street; "five-five" they call it. J-Bo, Loco, Nappy, and Low-So, to name a few, wheel around on small Huffy bicycles like night-hunting birds. They smile, joke with each other, and drop their gaze shyly when talking to strangers. The neighborhood is alive tonight; mothers and grandmothers sit before low-rise stucco homes watching toddlers on tricycles. A knot of young men throw dollar bills after dice on the sidewalk while a rust-streaked van with a faded ice-cream sign rolls down the street, warbling a tinny tune.

J-Bo, a big-boned eighteen-year-old with a round face, is a senior at Miami Northwestern High School. He lives at home with his unemployed mother and employed grandmother. He was one of the oldest boys in Jarvis's set. He eases down on the sidewalk's edge, where a collapsed chain-link fence once stood. "Jay was like a little brother to me," he says, using Jarvis's nickname. His head drops between his knees. "I'm going to miss him a lot. But I guess that's the way he wanted to go. You know? He died like a soldier."

Then the boy lifts his head and launches into a reminiscence: "I can remember the most fun I had with him. I got off my job working at Joe Robbie Stadium and I had my check. I came home and we brought a couch outside and got an extension cord to hear some music. I copped a couple of bags [of marijuana] and we sat around. We had a little group called the Warriors and we liked to rap." He gives the first few lines of their rap: "W-A-R-R-I-O R-to-the-S, put niggas to rest, bitch./Better get yo' mind right." J-Bo continues, describing how a half-dozen boys stayed up late that night rapping until a neighbor called the cops. When the squad car pulled up, they scattered, running through back yards to lose the officers. "We got to Jay's house and got inside. His momma always welcomed us in."

These are the boys with whom Jarvis traveled from childhood to adolescence. They played ball, rode bikes, and smoked blunts. As they got older, these were his fellow drug dealers. Some of them have been in trouble with the police. Some haven't. Because juvenile records are not open to the public, it's impossible to verify their claims.

Low-So, a soft-spoken sixteen-year-old, soberly describes his relationship with Jarvis. "I was with him all the time. We was like brothers. I still can't believe he's gone, you know? I think, like, he's faking it or something and he's going to come around the corner. I keep a picture of him, from the newspaper, up on a mirror in my room. I ain't never gonna forget him," he says.

In neat script Low-So wrote a post-mortem note to Jarvis:
"Lil homie, when you went away there were so many things that we didn't see or do. I will always cry myself to tears when I think about our few years together. It's only for a while that we must part, so I bless the memories that I keep within my heart.... If you need me, call me and I'll come. Though you can't see or touch me anymore, I'll be near and if you listen with your heart, you'll hear me and your family and friends saying you'll [be missed] but never forgotten."

Then, recalling that Jarvis was shot at 6:00 a.m., he adds with alarm: "I was supposed to be with him that night, but I don't like to be out that early."

Just then Loco, a tall eighteen-year-old with short dreads gathered on his head, approaches. He was caught not long ago illegally packing a handgun at a football game and was required to attend an alternative high school. As a result, he laments, he was unable to play for the champion Northwestern football team. His easy smile displays a mouthful of gold teeth.

"We tell you about painting our names in the street?" he asks. "Look."
On the pavement under a street lamp, a black scrawl spells out "55 Warriors." Beneath it is a series of about ten names; one of them is "Jay."

"A lot of these guys ain't no longer hangin' wi' us." Loco points to a name. "He no longer around here." He points to another. "He moved. Look, all the names are faded. Jay's is the darkest one on the street, and he the only one who's dead."

He's right. The big block letters spelling out Jay are particularly dark. He insists they haven't been touched up. To Loco this holds a mysterious significance. "I think Jay died for a reason. It brought us all together, made us closer."

J-Bo wants to drive to NW Second Avenue. Like Loco and Low-So, he wants to share something. "Turn here," he instructs. He points to the corner of 48th Street in front of the Two Brothers Market Kwik Stop, a rundown convenience store with two pay phones near the wall. This was the spot where Jarvis sold five-dollar packets of crack rocks and marijuana, as well as ten- to twenty-dollar quantities of powder cocaine. After turning left on 48th Street, J-Bo gestures at another site. This one is cluttered with flowers, drawings, and a balloon with "I love you" printed on it. On the ground is a black Bob Marley T-shirt bearing the message "Don't gain the world and lose your soul/Wisdom is better than silver and gold." Jarvis was gunned down here. Ten stuffed animals, a clutch of mute sentries, stand guard. "The teddy bears is 'cause he was so young," J-Bo laments.

Sgt. Willie Everett is a big, barrel-chested black man who has a reputation as the sharpest dresser in Miami's homicide division. He's partial to crisp starched shirts and jazzy ties. Everett volunteered to deliver the news of Jarvis's murder to Eva Hilbert that Christmas morning because he had met the teen six months before, just after his arrest for selling drugs.

"Kids like that, with that kind of past, really need some kind of role model," he says.

Then Everett points to a mug shot of Jarvis. "Does he look like a fifteen-year-old to you? Look at that face, look at the creases on his brow."

Indeed Jarvis was mature, both physically and professionally. "Usually the younger kids, the fourteen- and fifteen-year-olds, are lookouts. It's uncommon for them to be sellers. But Jarvis had been out there and apparently [the dealers] felt they could trust him."

An older man recruited Jarvis into the trade when he was just fourteen years old. Since the days of Oliver Twist, adults have used juveniles to do their bidding. But such recruitment became widespread during the Seventies and Eighties, when prison sentences for drug dealing increased. Flocks of impoverished children rose to the call and procured guns to protect themselves. Although police have not linked Jarvis to any violent acts, friends say he carried a weapon while dealing.

As youth violence has increased across the nation in recent years, legislators have cracked down. Nearly every state in the country has passed laws lowering the age at which kids can be criminally charged as adults and sent to prison. In doing so they have redefined the parameters of childhood.

On a sunny weekday afternoon, NW 140th Street in Opa-locka is quiet. Eva Hilbert is sitting in her clean, sparsely decorated living room recounting Jarvis's short life. It hurts to tell the story, she says, but it's not the first time she's pulled her family through a trauma. In fact, between the heartache and the bruises, the men in her life have caused Hilbert much pain. As she talks, her sixteen-year-old daughter Charmaine curls up in a near-fetal position on the plastic-covered couch. While a soap opera plays on the TV, Charmaine sucks her thumb.

"I didn't raise Jarvis to be a hoodlum," declares Eva Hilbert, now 45 years old. Her voice is a soft singsong, polite but faint, almost distant. It's the voice of someone who has learned to disengage from the reality around her. "I raised him to treat people like you would want to be treated. You do that and God will bless you."

Above the TV three portraits are arranged in an arc: Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Malcolm X.

Jarvis, his mother explains, was her "knee-baby boy," the second youngest in a family of five siblings. When he was born at Jackson Memorial Hospital on August 16, 1983, his father, Robert Lee James, was living with the family in an apartment on NW Twelfth Avenue and 58th Street.

"[Robert] was a nice person, but he had the temper, too, just like Jarvis," she comments. Hilbert met James when she was sixteen years old. "We got along well. He always helped with the children, he would take them to the park, walk them, and feed them. Back then he worked in construction."

James was a spottily employed brick mason. During the 1983 holiday season he was unemployed and anxious. "He started saying there wasn't enough money in the house and he wanted to get the kids presents," Hilbert recalls. On November 21 at 2:00 p.m., James held a gun to the head of New York tourist Humberto Perez in a parking garage at SE First Street and Second Avenue. James, along with his brother Ralph, took $500 in cash and $9200 in jewelry from Perez, then fled in the tourist's rented Lincoln. Ralph drove. Fifteen minutes later, when two Miami police officers spotted the car and gave chase, Robert James popped up out of the passenger side window and fired two shots into the police car's windshield. Neither officer was injured.

On December 8 police tracked down Robert James and arrested him. Several months later, after a jury found him guilty of armed robbery and attempted murder, James sent Judge David Gersten an anguished letter. Despite the misspellings and obvious attempt to explain his violent actions, it communicated the despair of a failed father. James asked to see his family before the sentencing. Eva was still recovering from complications after giving birth to Jarvis, who had seizures as a newborn.

"It's a medical ferlo I'm asking you for. Eva lost one baby, and Jarvis almost kill her. I am sorry for firing at the officers, but I pannic. I am sorry.... I wont to tell my son that what I did was wrong and him know he can do better. So please judge can I have this ferlo so I can have some time before you give me time? Please," he wrote.

The medical furlough was denied. Judge Gersten sentenced James to twenty years in prison; his brother Ralph got seven years.

"Jarvis only seen his daddy two or three times before he went to prison," Hilbert recounts.

In 1987 James died of AIDS-related pneumonia in the clinic of the North Florida Reception Center in Lake Butler, north of Gainesville. At age 34 he was buried in the prison cemetery. "I didn't have no money to send for the body," Hilbert intones quietly, almost guiltily.

Just before James died, Hilbert moved the family to a government-owned house near Cutler Ridge. She wanted her seven children to live far from the violence of inner-city Miami. That's when she met Napoleon Partee, who became her boyfriend. "He seemed nice. He liked the kids," Hilbert says. "At least I thought so at the time."

But soon, she confesses, Partee became obsessively jealous. He yelled at her for talking too long with the mailman. Soon the yelling turned to grabbing and the grabbing turned to choking, she says. In 1994, after they broke up, Partee became a stalker, Hilbert claims. In December he was convicted of trespassing and domestic violence. A judge sentenced him to probation. Hilbert obtained a restraining order and moved the family to NW 55th Street in Miami. "My friends were telling me, 'Don't move to the city, it's too dangerous.'" At that point, she says, Partee scared her more than urban violence.

Her 25-year-old son Andre Robinson, who had a family of his own and a job cutting lawns, became man of the house. He disciplined the kids and when the sun set, he called them inside. Robinson was arrested several times, once for stealing a car and twice for illegally possessing a gun. Prosecutors dropped auto theft charges in 1986. In the gun cases, a judge withheld adjudication in 1990 and sentenced him to two days in jail in 1994.

Jarvis's few years on NW 55th Street were, by all accounts, a happy time. He attended Charles Drew Middle School and played on the 110-pound Liberty City Optimist football team, called the Warriors. (His crew was named after the football team.) He made friends who would troop into Eva Hilbert's kitchen asking for food. She would prepare peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches and serve juice. The kids would watch football or play video games while eating their snacks.

On February 23, 1996, Hilbert traveled south to Cutler Ridge to attend a party. Partee arrived at the same gathering and they argued, she says, and then he struck her. She hit back with a bottle, then fled. Someone called her son Andre. As Hilbert headed north in a county bus, Andre sped toward the party in a red Isuzu truck, a pistol tucked in the waistband of his pants.

Robinson confronted Partee and the two fought. Then, according to court papers, Robinson pulled the gun from his pants and shot Partee twice in the back. As Partee fell, Robinson finished him with a shot to the head.

Police charged Robinson with murder. In July 1996 he was sentenced to 24 years to life. The punishment upset Hilbert. "How could they do such a thing? Here's a son trying to protect his mother and family. How could they give him all those years?" Hilbert asks. "In my heart I believe if Andre was here, Jarvis would not be dead. He was like a second daddy, helping raise them kids."

During the summer of 1997, after Robinson went to prison, Jarvis started acting up. By then Hilbert had moved the family again, this time to NW 95th Street and 22nd Avenue.

"[Jarvis] started coming home kind of late. I'd ask him where he was and he'd tell me he was at a friend's house chillin'," Hilbert remembers. "I'd say, 'Chillin? At 2:00 a.m.? 4:00 a.m.? You better not come home this late again.' He'd just look at me, say, 'Okay,' then go fix some food to eat."

Samuel Johnson, executive director of the Liberty City Optimist Club, remembers seeing Jarvis on the street that summer. "I asked him whether he was going to play football [with the Warriors] that fall. He said he didn't know about the funds," Johnson remembers. (The registration fee is $65.) "I said, 'I tell you what, you come out and I'll take care of it.' Then I went and talked to the coach, told him we had a kid here that needed some extra help."

But football wasn't enough to keep Jarvis from the streets. He had started skipping entire days of classes. "He was rarely in school," comments an official at Charles Drew Middle, who asked not to be identified. "He didn't seem to be crying out for help. He was pretty strong-willed. He was a strong-headed boy."

Jarvis found the one thing that would hold his interest late on a summer afternoon.

"It was just before the summer, right before we got out of school in 1997. It was just a regular day when he come up to us," remarks J-Bo while walking down 55th Street. He's recalling how the crew went from graffiti, rapping, and smoking weed to selling rock and carrying guns after a stranger approached them with an offer.

The man who sauntered up to them was a drug dealer who saw opportunity in the cluster of kids riding beat-up bikes. He made an offer. "He told us he wanted to help all of us get money," J-Bo recounts. "He wanted to see everybody happy. And everybody was down with it, you know what I'm saying, 'cause we young, we needing to get money. And that's how Jay saw it."

Jarvis, according to his friends, had a fierce drive for profit. "None of us got into it like Jay got into it," J-Bo remarks. "Jay got into it for the money, because he was less fortunate than the rest of us. He couldn't go to his mom — she had to pay out to everybody."

"Jay, he act like he need that money bad," says another friend.
Indeed there was no spare money in the Hilbert household. Eva Hilbert's income was a patchwork of welfare, benefits related to Jarvis's father's death, and child support from the father of another of Hilbert's children. In all she received between $800 and $900 per month. Hilbert paid $450 in rent for the three-bedroom house she lived in with four children.

In the summer of 1997, all of Jarvis's friends wanted money. The dealer would supply them with $100 worth of the three big sellers: powder cocaine, rock cocaine, and marijuana. Each $100 amount was called a bomb. The boys would divide up the work. J-Bo says he and one of the other older boys acted as lieutenants, bringing bombs to the crew and relaying money to the dealer. Jarvis was the bomb man; his job was to divide the drugs into five-dollar amounts and distribute it. He resupplied the kids who made the sales, an act known as reupping. Other boys acted as lookouts and gave warning when the cops showed up.

Mimicking bigger gangs such as the John Doe Boys and Cloud Nine, who marked their product so clients would develop brand loyalty, the boys bought a stamp imprinted with their group's name, Warriors, crowned by three stars. They stamped each of the light-blue paper packets that held drugs with that insignia.

And, the boys say, they had guns: .38s and .45s. They didn't carry them every day but usually kept them close, especially while clocking (selling). Jarvis started calling himself "Young Thug." Yet the boys did not consider themselves a gang. For outsiders the difference may be subtle, but to them it was clear: They were a group of friends who had carved out an identity; gangs had initiations and a strict hierarchy.

The boys owned NW 55th Street and Thirteenth Avenue. As long as they kept to a small area, they figured they wouldn't disturb the gangs. "There weren't no other street," J-Bo attests. "We wasn't no big-time organization, so we didn't really worry about John Does or Cloud Nine coming down."

The Warriors also respected the gangs' boundaries. West of NW Fifteenth Avenue was a group called DND, Doing Niggers Dirty. "And they looove to jump people. I mean they will beat yo' ass," J-Bo says. "It got to the point where they couldn't beat us, though. They had that much respect for us." (Miami police investigating Jarvis's death have heard of DND, but had not heard of the Warriors.)

Eventually the supplier moved and the Warriors' stock dried up, according to several boys. They maintain they stopped selling drugs on the street. "All I can say is, to be honest, it ain't for me," J-Bo professes. "That's why I was a lieutenant or whatever. I just made sure the dope was right and the money was right. I didn't need it. I got peoples. I got a grandma I love to death. She'd do anything, anything for me. I got a strong family. They back me up with anything. That's why I love my family and don't need to do this."

The homicide cops investigating Jarvis's death don't believe the boys have stopped selling. Such changes of heart don't come easily. "It's hard for them to give up making money," comments Det. Orlando Silva. "The incentive is very strong."

Jarvis certainly didn't want to surrender the money. He hungered for cash. He had a girlfriend named Taccara, a pretty petite girl, who says she met Jarvis in October 1997 when they were both fourteen years old. These days Taccara regularly stops by the Hilberts' home after school. She wears silver bracelets on one wrist and an anklet with her name on it. On the long, painted nail of her left middle finger, Jarvis is spelled out in flowing script.

"Jarvis wasn't bad," she utters, her little-girl voice rising. "He was a sweet little boy. He used to call me 'Boo.' He gave me money every two weeks to get my hair done. He would buy me lunch in school, and walk me to my class."

Jarvis kept Taccara away from the street crowd, she says. That wasn't hard because she was busy most days after school helping baby-sit her cousin's child.

Early in 1998 Taccara saw Jarvis less regularly. That's when a stranger rented a little bungalow on 55th Street and started playing in the neighborhood sidewalk dice games. One day, J-Bo recalls, the new guy "stepped up to us. He really stepped up to Jay, because Jay was so young. He came at Jay before anybody."

The man made Jarvis his partner, the boys relate. Jarvis began selling drugs on NW 48th Street and Second Avenue, a more prominent location, or hole, as the boys call it. "That corner's a moneymaker," says Detective Silva. Apparently it's widely known as the place to go to get anything, from cocaine to heroin.

"[Jarvis] used to call me every night from a pay phone at the store on that corner," Taccara says. "I used to tell him to stay away from there, 'You doing stuff you ain't got no right doing.'"

Problems arose for the kids when neighbors complained to police about drug sales on the corner. On August 22, a Saturday afternoon, a surveillance team from the Miami Police Department watched as a red Honda Prelude pulled up. Jarvis, in a Chicago Bulls jersey with Michael Jordan's number 23 on it, stepped to the driver's window. In a furtive exchange Jarvis handed over some packets that police believe contained marijuana and cocaine. The driver gave him some bills. An undercover detective watching the transaction stepped forward and flashed his badge. The female driver panicked and hit the gas.

She sped south on NW 41st Street, careening through the intersection of Miami Avenue and slamming into an Acura Legend heading east. The impact tossed all three passengers from the Legend, instantly killing twelve-year-old Samuel Baptiste. When witnesses and rescue workers arrived, Samuel's ten-year-old sister Esther was in the middle of the street crying out for help. Paramedics took her to the hospital.

Police grabbed the Prelude's driver, Sherran Dunevant, a 35-year-old white woman with a string of petty drug possession arrests dating to 1997. (All the prior charges were dismissed.) Police say they found cocaine, heroin, and marijuana in the car. Two days after the crash, police charged Dunevant with murder. Dunevant is now in jail on a $50,000 bond awaiting trial.

That day the cops hauled Jarvis downtown. He had turned fifteen years old the week before. They took him to an interview room in the Miami Police Department's homicide division. Sgt. Willie Everett had seen this before: a fifteen-year-old going on thirty. Still, Everett recalls thinking to himself, How could a kid that young get involved with something as devastating as this? Everett poured Jarvis a glass of water, then called Eva Hilbert. When she arrived, he says, "she seemed very concerned. She was telling me she was having problems with him, because he wouldn't stay out of the area where he was selling drugs."

So Everett decided to give Jarvis a lecture he calls "the talk."
"He kept denying he sold her [Dunevant] drugs," Everett recounts. "But we had surveillance on the place. I told him, 'If you don't straighten out, if you don't stop selling drugs on the street, you're going to get killed.' I've been in this business long enough to know that a fourteen-year-old or fifteen-year-old out on the street selling drugs is going to wind up dead sooner or later."

They talked for about an hour. Jarvis adopted a cocky slouch during the session, recalls Everett, who grimaces at the memory. "I hate to say I was right, but given what happened ..."

The police detained Jarvis several more hours, then allowed him to return home. Everett remembers that as the family left the department, Eva Hilbert turned to him and said, "Maybe this is the best thing for him. Maybe this will straighten him out."

"It's true," Hilbert avows. Of the time she went with Jarvis to court a few months later she says, "I was fixing to tell the judge to lock him up. But then I looked at him and knew he'd be mad at me." The judge on the case informed Hilbert that a court-appointed counselor would visit the family and evaluate their home. Jarvis was scheduled to be back in court January 12.

"You think you can save a fourteen-year-old kid," Everett muses. "If they're that young, they might listen. But in this case I was mistaken."

Everett was mistaken. The arrest and drug-dealing charges didn't slow Jarvis. The boy returned to his corner with a vengeance. He would work all day, all night, and all day again, his friends say. He was making a lot of money. Another law of economics was about to hit: Where there are excessive profits, expect fierce competition.

In November when police attributed several killings in Liberty City to gang conflict, headlines announced a gang war. Three people were murdered after police arrested the reputed head of the John Does, Corey Smith, on November 13. By mid-December, a series of drive-by shootings left one woman dead, one man paralyzed, and a third person in critical condition. Police believed that in the power vacuum following Smith's arrest, a former John Doe member named Anthony "Little Bo" Fail began feuding with his former gang mates.

The violence didn't scare Jarvis. He still worked the streets. Christmas Eve was the last time any of Jarvis's friends saw him alive. He left home during the day with his supplier, and he worked through the night.

Mark Silas, visiting from North Carolina for the holidays, spent Christmas morning praying for his life. He was splayed on the ground outside his sister's house on NW Fifth Avenue and 46th Street, yanking on a gold ring that wouldn't budge. Four men in ski masks stood over him with guns. Around 3:30 a.m. Silas told police he was returning to a relative's house from a club when the men jumped him while he was parking his car. "Hurry up," one of the carjackers hissed as Silas struggled with the ring. Then the robber whacked Silas's head with the butt of a gun. They took his $250 gold Bulova watch, four gold rings worth a total of about $500, and $130 in cash. They jumped in Silas's four-door 1998 green Ford Expedition truck and sped off. It wasn't the last police would hear of the men in ski masks.

At 6:00 a.m. Jarvis stood at his spot. He had worked all night. His supplier was supposed to pick him up, but police believe the man got drunk and passed out. When the green Ford Expedition pulled up, it didn't take Jarvis long to figure out what the men inside wanted. As they exited the vehicle, Jarvis started running. One of them pointed a weapon that a witness told police looked like an assault rifle. He fired one shot. The bullet tore through Jarvis's back and exited his abdomen. The men ran up to the body, rifled through Jarvis's pockets, and took what was probably his proceeds from the night's work. Then they sped off.

Jarvis was alive when the paramedics arrived a few minutes later. He died at 6:37 a.m., after they reached Jackson Memorial Hospital.

When the call came in to homicide, Sgt. Everett recognized the name of the cocky kid in the number 23 Bulls jersey, so he headed up to Opa-locka. "I was thinking to myself, What a hell of a Christmas present," he recalls.

Two hours after Jarvis's shooting, a pistol-wielding gunman in shorts plugged a 30-year-old drug dealer named Mark Couch at point-blank range inside the Fast and Friendly convenience store on NW Seventeenth Avenue and 52nd Street. Police at first thought the two shootings were related, but now they're not so sure.

Three days after Jarvis died, Miami police launched Operation Draw the Line, which involved massive police presence in Liberty City. Eight days later, on January 5, a team of FBI agents busted into a Days Inn in West Palm Beach and nabbed Fail, who was eating pizza and watching TV when they burst in. On January 7 the U.S. Attorney's Office indicted 26 members of the John Does and Cloud Nine. The feds announced the seizure of a cache of weapons, including machine guns and hand grenades.

These days the city is struggling to cope with the legacy of its murdered children.

On January 16 politicians and prosecutors gathered for the groundbreaking of a memorial: a black granite wall similar to the one erected in Washington, D.C., as a tribute to those killed in Vietnam. This wall, however, contains all the names of those younger than age eighteen killed by gunfire in Miami-Dade County since 1980. It was the idea of Wazirah Brown, a Florida State freshman, who lost an eighth-grade friend to a bullet. There were 446 such deaths through June 1998.

On January 18 the Martin Luther King Day Parade was held on NW 54th Street, not far from Jarvis's spot. Politicians rolled by in shiny convertibles, followed by police cars and fire trucks. Then a van bearing the placard "Stop the Violence" appeared. A photo of a young girl was posted on its side. It showed Judy McCollum, who was crippled by a stray bullet from a drive-by shooting in 1996, when she was nine years old. In the crowd a fleshy woman with long braids comments, "Aren't they ever going to let that poor girl rest? Every time they have a parade they drag her out. Let the poor child rest." From the back of the van, Judy, strapped to a wheelchair, waves to the crowd.

The makeshift memorial remains at the spot where Jarvis was killed. The flowers are dried stalks. The teddy bears are still there, but the T-shirt, drawings, and balloons are gone.

Hilbert can't find a photograph of Jarvis. "He didn't like pictures much," she says. "I was meaning to get a photo taken at Christmas." At his funeral the only photograph displayed was his mug shot.

The family plans to visit his grave in Dade Memorial Park on Valentine's Day. By then Taccara hopes to have paid off the $115 gold chain she has on layaway. It was to have been Jarvis's Christmas present. Now she'll wear it in his memory. "I want to throw him a sweet sixteen," she adds.

J-Bo intends to graduate high school and get a job as a longshoreman. Loco is thinking about joining the military to earn money for college tuition. Low-So works after school at a Burger King.

Police have changed their minds about some of the Liberty City killings. Although they at first blamed Fail's feud on the John Does, they now believe that an unknown group was robbing drug dealers. Police are not sure whether the robberies were related to the John Does.

Not long after Jarvis was shot, Det. Orlando Silva drove by Jarvis's spot on 48th Street. One of the boy's friends was doing business there. "He said he needed to work the corner to make money and help pay for Jarvis's funeral.

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Tristram Korten
Contact: Tristram Korten