Raheem Ikeam Myers Was the City’s 203rd Homicide Victim This Year. This Is His Story.

He was a man with children, a big extended family, and a faith that sustained him. In one of Philly’s most violent years, he became yet another casualty. His complicated story reveals how the city failed to protect him — and so many like him.

philadelphia homocide

A photo of Raheem Myers, taken at the hospital on the day one of his daughters was born, is part of a memorial on a shelf at the North Philadelphia home of his mother, Pamela Belcher. Photograph by Kriston Jae Bethel

Every three months or so, Philadelphia Inquirer beat reporters pull a weekend shift. That’s why health reporter Marie McCullough found herself working the July 4th weekend when the alert came. The information from the police department’s public relations office was sketchy, but it was just enough. McCullough posted her story on the newspaper’s website at 9:21 a.m. on Friday, July 3rd.

Man shot to death in North Philadelphia was brief. The template was familiar. It was the kind of story you can read in one sip of coffee before you slide on to the next.

“I have absolutely no memory of it,” McCullough admits six weeks later. The Inquirer generally considers all fatalities news, but journalism has a value system that makes some deaths more newsworthy than others. For this story, there was no reason to pound the pavement.

It wasn’t a mass murder. The victim wasn’t famous, like 18-year-old Aamir Johnson-Daye, otherwise known as D4M Skiano, half of a popular rap duo. He wasn’t young, like seven-year-old Zamar Jones, who was killed while playing on his porch. He wasn’t an unlikely victim, like upstanding U.S. Marine Robert Wood III.

So the story only took about 30 minutes.

Police are investigating the shooting death early Friday morning of a 30-year-old man in North Philadelphia.

The shooting happened shortly before 1:30 a.m. at 23rd Street and Montgomery Avenue, police said.

The victim, who was found lying on the street next to a city rental bike, had multiple gunshot wounds to his chest and was pronounced dead at Temple University Hospital. A bag with a handgun inside was found under the bike.

Two suspects wearing all black were seen fleeing the scene, police said. No weapon was recovered, and no arrests had been made.

It was done. And then forgotten.

For years, when reading this type of story, I would quickly slide on to the next headline, too. But as time passed, I began to linger as I started to wonder: Who were these people who had died so young? What had happened in their lives that found their obituaries buried in the journalistic equivalent of a potter’s field? I began to suspect that this wasn’t the first time these people had been ignored, dismissed or denied.

philadelphia homocide

A page from the Philadelphia Inquirer.

On the morning of July 4th, while sipping an iced coffee, I ripped the story out of the Philadelphia Inquirer. “He’s the one,” I thought. I was going to find out about Man’s life. I expected to find that all of us had failed him — and by “us,” I mean the costly and racist systems we establish to handle kids from troubled families.

In 2017, MIT economist Peter Temin wrote in The Vanishing Middle Class that it takes nearly two decades without anything going wrong and with everything going right for a person to get out of poverty, and that race plays a major factor. Those transformational stories with happily-ever-after endings are the ones that usually get several column inches in a newspaper. They’re the ones we love to read. Aaah! It feels good to say that our system isn’t broken.

This is not that story.


He died swiftly, unknown and surrounded by strangers.

Within 10 minutes of his shooting, a bleeding Man shot to death in North Philadelphia was scooped up by two police officers and whisked in their patrol car to Temple Univerasity Hospital’s emergency room at Broad and Ontario, a few minutes’ ride away.

Unfortunately for Temple University Hospital, a blood-soaked half-dead man being carried in by beat cops is an ordinary night. The hospital treats more gunshot and stabbing victims than any other trauma center in Pennsylvania. They’re mostly Black, mostly male, mostly young. The leading cause of death for Black males under age 44 in the United States is homicide. In Pennsylvania, Black men are almost 30 times more likely to be killed by gunfire than are white men.

So many gunshot victims flow through Temple’s doors that the hospital has created numerous public health programs to help break the cycle of violence. In 2013, it launched what became the Trauma Victim Support Program, which connects victims of gun violence to counseling and social service resources, to help reduce the likelihood of retaliation and/or re-injury. Fighting Chance followed; it teaches bystanders to give trauma-related first aid. Safe Bet has handed out 7,000 gun locks.

None of those programs helped prevent this shooting, so the doctors at Temple were left to patch up the victim.

He arrived in very, very bad shape, with seven or eight gunshot wounds to the chest. There’s a lot of vital stuff in the chest cavity, so getting shot there multiple times carries a high risk of being fatal.

Although the shooting took place in the middle of the night, somebody who knew the victim saw him lying on the ground.

That somebody quickly called Man shot to death in North Philadelphia’s older brother. Older brother called their mother. When the phone rang, the mother suspected the worst. “When you get a call that time of morning, it has to be an emergency,” Pamela Sherry Belcher says. Distraught, she picked up the phone hesitantly, listened quietly, and screamed.

Because of COVID-19, only Belcher and her older son, who had called with the news, were allowed into the hospital: “I think we sat for a good 20, 25 minutes waiting for the doctor. When she came, she told me her name, showed me her credentials and said, ‘I’m sorry to inform you … ”

Raheem Ikeam Myers was pronounced dead at 1:30 a.m.


Months after the murder, when the heat of summer has given way to the warmth of fall, family members gather in the Muslim section of the Chelten Hills Cemetery on Washington Lane. It’s the three-month anniversary of Raheem’s death. Duanna “Reds” Griggs, the mother of three of his five children, had the idea to have the memorial at the cemetery.

Only a small group was invited: Griggs, whom Belcher treats as a daughter, and the children, Raheem’s aunt, a sister, his mother and a cousin. Griggs was running late, very late, and everyone wondered whether she would get there before the cemetery staff locked the gates at noon. For almost an hour they waited, refusing to go forward until she arrived.

philadelphia homocide

The family of Raheem Myers releases balloons at Chelten Hills Cemetery on the three-month anniversary of his July murder. Photograph by Kriston Jae Bethel

As a teenager, while living with his doting older sister, Tamika Myers, Raheem had become a Muslim. Upon his conversion to Islam, he took the name Abdul Haqq, which means “servant of the truth.” By all accounts, he was dedicated to his faith. It was reflected in his dress, in his diet, in his studies. Belcher, Myers and Griggs — who formed Raheem’s personal troika — didn’t know why. With his mother, a Christian, Raheem agreed to disagree. But he wanted Griggs to convert and wear religious coverings.

She refused, and as other problems piled up, Raheem drifted away from Griggs and started living with — and had another child by — a woman who was Muslim and did wear religious coverings: Kimani Williams. She is so despised by Belcher, Griggs and Myers — they feel that she didn’t treat Raheem’s mother with respect — that Belcher threatens to stop participating in this story whenever their relationship comes up.

Why do you have to mention her? She’s not his wife. She’s just his wife in the Muslim way.

According to Williams’s Facebook page, they became a couple in February 2019 and were married in April 2019. Williams never returns my calls or responds to my texts.

Out of respect, Belcher had her son buried in the Muslim tradition. His body was cleansed and wrapped, and there was a congregational prayer service on July 7th. As the women gathered apart from the men and sheltered under a tent at the cemetery, the men accompanied the body to its final resting place. “I am a Christian, so we had a Christian service,” says Belcher. “But he was Muslim, and I had to honor him and give him his Janazah.”

This October day, they all wear red, Raheem’s favorite color. There is no plaque yet to mark his grave, but his favorite green rug is laid flat on the bare ground, as if awaiting his return to prayer.

While Belcher waits, she contents herself by fussing with the roses and balloons she brought, making sure nothing blows away. The burial plot is surrounded by the graves of so many others who had died young. Belcher walks around the small area, taking a morbid census, counting the young ones who had died in 2020. Raheem was the first homicide victim in July, the 203rd of the year. In all, 215 people would be shot in the month of July, and 48 of them would die.

Jamal Oney, the first of the family to arrive, lived in the same house as Raheem for a while.

He recalls the good times. “We were around nine or 10,” he says. Football and roughhousing were favorite games for the cousins. “Raheem liked to play, and he was always dancing. What was the song he was always singing?” he calls out. The whole family puts their heads together. Then they remember and start to hum softly: “That Lady,” by the Isley Brothers. A popular R&B song that was almost two decades old when Raheem was born.

Hear me callin’ out to you
’Cause that’s all that I can do
Your eyes tell me to pursue
But you say, look yeah
But don’t touch, baby,
No, no, no, don’t touch

It had become increasingly rare for the cousins to spend time together, but that night they texted about sneakers, nothing serious. And nothing that indicated Raheem was worried about his life. “He was selling Louis Vuitton sneakers for $600,” Jamal recalls. He said he was willing to put the word out on his own Facebook account, maybe buy a pair himself.

Then, early the next morning, on July 3rd, Oney heard from Cousin Tamika. By sunrise, family and friends were sharing the news and broken-heart emojis with each other on their Facebook accounts, each post etched deep with unbelieving grief. Jamal posted his sadness, too: Went to sleep and woke up to this shit not being a nightmare.

Just before noon, Griggs arrives with her children in tow, including the three who just lost a father: Ra’laya, eight, and Ra’kiyah, five, the girls, and Ra’kah, Raheem’s two-year-old son, who is also celebrating his birthday. They are so young that their father is already sliding into frozen forgottenness, becoming an ephemeral memory refracted only through Facebook pictures and sketches told and retold at family events.

The children don’t seem to know what to make of the event. There are no etiquette rules for a combination child birthday celebration/daddy graveside memorial, but they listen to their mother and grandmother, take their balloons in hand, await the countdown, and together let them go.

Red and white balloons sail into the bright blue sky. And ever so slowly, they fade from view.

Hear me callin’ out to you
’Cause that’s all that I can do …


Raheem Myers loved to hang out in the street. “He was in the streets too much,” Oney says bitterly, as his remembrances darken. “He should have taken his ass home where he needed to be.”

He was always out. His mother couldn’t stop him, his sister allowed it, and it was one of the things that destroyed his relationship with Griggs.

But the streets were his world. And what he did on the streets stayed on the streets. He managed his life by keeping his worlds separated, and he avoided conflict by floating away from anyone who challenged his system.

That’s why no one in the family seems to know why Raheem was out riding a bike at one in the morning, pedaling along, listening to music with his earphones on, about half a block from his home with Williams. “I told him, I always told him and my other son, too, not to be riding with those earphones on,” Belcher says, as if that would have saved him.

None of the family believe the story that he went out to get milk for the baby girl he’d just had with Williams. “They said he had been out on the street all day that day,” Belcher snaps. “If he wanted milk, he would have come down here and gone to Cousin’s” — the local supermarket. Besides, others add, what’s open at 23rd and Montgomery at one in the morning?

Philadelphia police department Lieutenant Norman Davenport, of the homicide unit, didn’t buy the milk story, either. He says surveillance video showed the attack on Raheem was clearly an ambush — that he’d been set up, with two people lying in wait until he arrived.

But at one in the morning, he adds, witnesses are hard to come by.

According to the initial police report, Raheem was found next to a bike, with a gun in a bag beside his body.

“It was a starter pistol,” his father, John Sherrill, says. His mother calls it a “fake” pistol. Although Belcher and Griggs aren’t sure why he had it, Raheem was on probation, and carrying a real gun would have been illegal. Davenport won’t confirm or deny that part of the story. Raheem is a victim, and the police department, he explains, doesn’t want to disparage a victim.

“But the street talks,” Oney says, repeating another theory before the memorial service starts. “I heard he owed somebody money and a hit was ordered. And the hitmen are in Miami.”

Then he stops talking, shakes his head, and walks away from the gravesite.


Even tales that end in woe have a once-upon-a-time beginning. This is how Pamela Belcher remembers Raheem’s early years.

He was a good baby with a sweet disposition. He was born January 4, 1990 — seven pounds, five ounces, at 7:35 p.m. — at Episcopal Hospital, which has been on Lehigh Avenue since the mid-1800s.

It was an easy pregnancy, an uneventful birth. He was her second-to-last child. Belcher named him Raheen — with an n — but for reasons she never figured out, he started calling himself Raheem, and soon the whole family was doing it, too. His brothers sometimes called him Brah. He didn’t cry much. He liked music. He was always telling jokes.

Her description of Raheem’s babyhood alternates between matter-of-fact and halting. She answers direct questions but volunteers little.

She doesn’t seem to have a mother’s brag-bag of anecdotes. “We have to tell the truth,” says Tamika Myers, Belcher’s oldest daughter and second oldest child, who’s sitting beside her mother as we discuss Raheem.

philadelphia homocide

Pamela Sherry Belcher, mother of Raheem Myers, at her home. Photograph by Kriston Jae Bethel

The truth is a story too common for Black families in Philadelphia — a truth that Raheem’s mother finds too painful to talk about. She goes silent as Myers holds forth, but her dismay is palpable.

“Raheem was in foster care. He was in foster care from the time he was three until 11. And then after he got out, he came and lived with me.”

Nobody in the family seems to agree on exactly how long Raheem was in foster care. However long it was, Raheem spent some of his most formative, impressionable years away from the care of his family.

Belcher says she had a difficult relationship with the man she lived with, the father of six of her children. Then John Sherrill, a family friend, stepped back into her life, and together they had Raheem (though she still gave him the last name Myers). Belcher won’t discuss the other man: “I don’t want to talk about him. This takes me back there.” Sherrill says the fighting was intense, and he wanted to help.

When the family fails, foster care is designed to be the safety net. More than 5,000 young people are in the system in Philly at any given time.

A move to foster care starts with a phone call. Black parents are reported more often, undergo police-initiated investigations twice as often, and are more likely to have their children removed than are white parents. This can happen even in places where studies have proven that Black families receive lower risk scores than white families upon initial assessment, as in Texas, where 2008 research showed that Black families were 77 percent more likely to have their children removed than white families.

Removal, at least at first, is supposed to be temporary — until a parent (usually a mom) can resolve whatever issues triggered the removal and prove her fitness. Among major U.S. cities, Philadelphia has the highest rate of removing children from their homes, leaving thousands of kids to deal with the trauma of it all.

So who called?

Belcher says it might have been social workers: “I think when I took the kids to the hospital for lead poisoning, social workers there told me I was overwhelmed and couldn’t care for my kids.” She lost her kids to the system. The family splintered. Some of the kids aged out of foster care, including Tamika: “I was older,” she says, “so I went to a group home.”

“It hurt,” Belcher says of losing her children to the system. “He would have been better off with me.” She insists she never did drugs, didn’t drink, fed the kids, cleaned the house.

Still, Raheem entered a system that kids rarely leave better off than they enter. Tamika says he spent time in at least two different homes. In one of the foster homes — probably in New Jersey — something bad happened. Something dark that destroyed a bit of his soul and raised enough alarm to cause dramatic action. Raheem told some people in school; they reported it, and he was removed to a different house.

So what happened?

“When he came out, he wasn’t the same anymore” is all Tamika will say. By the time Belcher finally got Raheem home permanently, it was too late. He came back angry and resentful. His father wasn’t in his life at that point. He was another child who hadn’t thrived.


Where you live predicts your life’s outcome. Live in the wrong neighborhood, and your children face a doomsday scenario.

Sometime after getting out of foster care, Raheem left his mother’s house and went to live with Tamika, who was only 10 years his senior but was ready to play the role of surrogate mother. “Raheem looked up to me,” she says. At 24, she already had kids of her own.

And she was living in the Norman Blumberg Apartments.

The Blumberg projects were once one of the city’s worst places to live, by any statistic. By the 2000s, the media described them as a crime-ridden warehouse. According to the Philadelphia Housing Authority, the dense eight-acre site contained around 500 units across two 18-story high-rises, a senior citizen high-rise, and 15 low-rise buildings, in all of which violent crime flourished at a rate double the city’s average. In 2016, PHA imploded the two high-rise towers as part of its revitalization plan for the Sharswood neighborhood, replacing them with houses and apartments and displacing the majority of the residents.

PHA is the country’s fourth largest public housing authority, with nearly 80,000 residents in more than 14,000 affordable housing units. PHA president and CEO Kelvin A. Jeremiah, who has helmed the agency since 2013, likes to tell the press the story of the first time he set foot in the Blumberg projects. In 2015, he told Al Día:

I’m not from the city, but I like to go out to our developments by myself. Not in a dark suit and red tie, but on a Saturday, to see the conditions that our families are living with.

I was confronted with entrepreneurs who were engaged in business activity at Blumberg. They didn’t know I was the president and CEO. I was driving a nice car. They didn’t know why I was there and proceeded to try and sell me something. Then they brandished a gun and told me, essentially, in the language of the community, sir, would you please get out. Otherwise, you will get shot.

You don’t belong here.

Ex-Blumberg residents have their stories, too, and they tell them on social media, far from traditional reporters. They have an annual gathering of former residents, as well as merch with mottos such as “Straight Outta Blumberg.” They were hustlers — not selling just drugs, but hair care, dinners, daycare, CDs. Anything to make it. They promoted the on-your-grind culture of the side gig before side gigs were a cultural phenomenon. There are the traditional success stories, too. The girl who got accepted to Harvard. The guy who took his drug money, got out of the game, and went legit by buying property in a gentrifying neighborhood. They have reunion picnics complete with vegan options and street parties at which police join in the festivities. Was there violence? Yes. But they describe themselves as a family community with a protective insider-vs.-outsider code.

Blumberg embraced Raheem, and he would forever love Blumberg. Myers chuckles, remembering him as the “social butterfly.” For the rest of his life, his whole world would revolve around Blumberg’s boundaries, even when the buildings no longer existed. He was street-smart, loyal, charming, personable, unafraid, handsome — strong currency in a Blumberg world. And he was protective — like the time there was a fire and he went back into the building to escort a senior citizen down eight flights of stairs. “He was always helping somebody,” Myers says proudly. “That’s the kind of person Raheem was.”

A year before Blumberg came down, he lost his best friend to street violence. In most of his Facebook posts, he is stoic, practical, never sentimental. But this one was different, very different. It’s one of the most intimate things he would write:

If I had to define friend in one word I would say ur name and if they ask who is that I would tell then that’s my best friend.


School was a different story. Even before high school, Raheem liked to walk out of school and wouldn’t sit still, so he was linked with a therapeutic staff support worker. TSS workers deal with children who have serious emotional disturbances in an effort to stabilize them and prevent some of the common consequences of foster placement. Belcher ticks off the schools she can remember Raheem attending: “Elkin, Stetson Middle School, Rhodes, Kensington, CEP.”

Community Education Partners was a for-profit Tennessee company that came to the city in 2000 and for a decade provided educational services for kids with serious violations of the disciplinary code. The environment was restrictive. Student interaction was discouraged, to control potential violence. Instruction was computer-based. The city canceled CEP’s contract as the district was beefing up demands that alternative education companies prove academic outcomes.

For Raheem, there were never academic awards or exciting extracurriculars — although Myers thinks he played basketball once. No remarkable teacher, guidance counselor, non-teaching assistant or principal. Nothing connected him to school, and a lack of attachment to school and low academic achievement are two risk factors for youth violence. He was a smart boy, but a terribly behaved student.

Raheem’s biggest academic success came when he earned his GED during one of his prison stints. “He was a smart boy,” Myers repeats.


Experts believe about one out of every four Black men will be incarcerated in their lifetime. Raheem joined this club when he was 20, arrested on charges of possession of a controlled substance with intent to distribute. The result was four years’ probation but no jail time.

Tamika Myers paid the $2,500 to bail him out. Looking over his record, civil defense attorney Damian Sammons, a former ADA with the Philadelphia district attorney’s office and a former criminal defense attorney, says the sentence seems excessive for a first-time offense: “It depends on the narcotic and the circumstances, but it seems like a long time.”

Probation may seem like a good deal, but it involves intense scrutiny with severe consequences for the smallest misstep. On any given day, some 7,400 Pennsylvanians are in prison not because they committed a new crime, but because of violations like missing appointments with their parole officer or failing a drug test. And Raheem would never live free of probation again. Two years later, in 2012, he was found guilty of a robbery. He was given a sentence of one to three years. In 2015, while out on probation, he violated his terms of parole. He received a sentence of 11 and a half to 23 months in prison and three more years of probation.

A criminal record keeps you from pulling yourself up, says Sammons. There are some 48,000 laws, sanctions and penalties that negatively impact people with criminal records. A record can keep you from getting a legit job, renting an apartment, borrowing money to go to college. Griggs talks of Raheem landing temp jobs, but after a while — she suspects when the results of his background checks came back — he wouldn’t get any more hours.

Sammons says that had Raheem been his client in 2010, he would have advised him not to take probation and recommended another, more difficult, path: “His only bet would have been to go to Drug Treatment Court.” It’s the best chance a lot of people have, but it’s not without its challenges. Defendants who complete the rigorous 12-month program, which stipulates that they stay crime-, drug- and alcohol-free, have their records expunged. But, Sammons adds, “It’s really hard to get through. I’ve only had a few clients successfully complete it.”

George D. Mosee Jr., executive director of the Philadelphia Anti-Drug/Anti-Violence Network, was the deputy DA in charge of narcotics when in 1997 he helped create the city’s Drug Treatment Court. When he considers Raheem’s record, he can think of only two reasons why that wasn’t the road taken: Either Raheem had an extensive juvenile record that may have precluded him, or Raheem said no. When you’re young the allure of probation could seem more appealing than doing the work of drug court, even if probation is actually harder in the long run. “For some young people,” says Mosee, “probation is a good outcome — at the time.”

Taylor Pacheco, a staff attorney with Philadelphia Lawyers for Social Equity (PLSE), reviewed Raheem’s record for this story, too: “He is a good example of being trapped and never finding his way out.” There are programs that help people escape from this trap — PLSE is one of them, and Pacheco feels certain her group could have gotten any charges he hadn’t been convicted of expunged from Raheem’s record and helped in getting the ones he was convicted of pardoned. By his mid-to-late 30s, Raheem could have had a clear record, which might have changed so much.

Raheem may not have known about PLSE’s services or the details of expungement and pardons, Pacheco concedes. They run radio ads, but most of their clients come in through word of mouth.

“Probation set him on a dark course,” says Sammons. “He never recovered from that one decision. It was like a vise that squeezed and tightened around him.”


Duanna Griggs first noticed Raheem on the Route 3 bus, which lumbers along Cecil B. Moore and Kensington avenues. When she saw him help a stranger with carfare, she flirted: “You should have paid my way,” she recalls saying. She was 29. Her naturally red hair was the source of her nickname: Reds. Raheem was 22 but told her he was older. “We were friends first,” she says.

There was a domestic side to Raheem. He would cook, clean, paint, cut the grass — whatever needed doing for Griggs. He had been like that when he went to live with Myers, becoming a surrogate father, always willing to watch the children. “He was a good uncle,” Myers adds. “He would tell my kids that they better listen to me.” Griggs fell in love with this caring Raheem. For about nine years, they were a couple, and they had their three children.

They were also a blended family. Raheem already had a daughter, and Griggs had three children by another man, Charles Brown, who was gunned down and killed in March 2009, before she met Raheem. Her beloved brother had also died, killed in a car accident when he was only 14. “What’s wrong with me?” she wonders sadly. “Why does this keep happening?”

What everybody says about Raheem is that family was the most important thing to him. He loved his kids. He became an instant father to Griggs’s kids: “I never had to ask him to do anything — he just did it. I never had to ask him to watch the kids.” He loved them unconditionally. He was easygoing and joking — until you messed with his family. That’s when his temper came out.

His first child, Taylor, 11, was born when he turned 19. His last child was born in the aftermath of his breakup with Griggs, with his wife, Kimani Williams. Griggs and Raheem would argue because he wanted his kids to visit him at his new woman’s house. Griggs forbade it. “I don’t know that woman,” she says.

Williams gave birth to a daughter a few months before Raheem’s murder. When he died, she was expecting another child.

The protective, caring family man was the identity Raheem would show the women in his life. Yet when they became too demanding, he could easily slip away. It was a pattern. He was still the kid who would get up and just walk out of school.

What he didn’t share were the hopes that he had for himself.

“Beyond being a good father, what did Raheem dream of being?” Griggs repeats my question slowly, turning it over carefully, as if she has never thought about it before and is searching for the right response. She never finds one.


On Father’s Day, the month before he died, Raheem asked his dad to make him a promise. Their relationship was mellowing. They were talking. Raheem said that if anything happened to him, he wanted Sherrill to take care of his children. “I told him that I was already giving him money to help him out with the kids,” says Sherrill, who had no reason to think the request was foreshadowing his son’s death.

Except in June, there was the incident.

Raheem was on the street around 23rd and Berks when he witnessed a murder. It was the evening of June 7th, and a young man was walking down the street, headphones in his ears. Two men came up behind him and shot him. The story is that it was a burglary gone bad. The young man was a U.S. Marine who was interested in becoming a police officer or an FBI agent.

It was just happenstance that Raheem was there, and when the shooting was done, he stepped in, staying with the Marine until help arrived. Then he held him in his arms on the way to the hospital, but it was too late. Twenty-one-year-old Robert Wood III died, begging Raheem: “Tell my family I love them.”

Barbara Laker and Wendy Ruderman of the Philadelphia Inquirer, in writing a story about the city’s twin pandemics — COVID-19 and gun violence — conducted a long interview with Wood’s devastated parents. This led them to Kimani Williams, by now a widow, who suggested that Raheem was killed in retaliation for talking to the police.

Everyone seems to have a theory about what happened to Raheem. George Mosee of the Anti-Drug/Anti-Violence Network says the reasons for murder are few: turf scenario, mistaken identity, wrong place/time, retaliation and witness intimidation. But Philadelphia’s clearance rate for homicides is 47 percent. It’s likely the family will never know who killed Raheem or why. “He had a heart of gold,” Belcher says of her son. “Raheem didn’t deserve to be gunned down. He was no angel, but he was still a person.”

She’s thinking about how she can turn her pain into something helpful, so that maybe another mother needn’t go through this. And she has ordered a plaque for Raheem’s gravesite. On it, she changed his name to include “Sherrill.” “That’s fair,” she says: In loving memory of Raheem Sherrill Myers. Loving son, father, brother, uncle, nephew and grandson. It’s a beautiful sentiment, one that captures much of what Raheem was in a few short words. But it also erases Abdul Haqq, the servant of truth.

When the plaque comes, Sherrill and Belcher plan to place it at the head of his plot. RIP.


It’s been another deadly weekend, and on Monday, Inquirer reporter Robert Moran is covering the evening’s breaking news. There have been 415 homicide victims as of early November. As usual, the information from the police department’s public relations office is sketchy, but just enough. The template is familiar. It’s the kind of story you can read in one sip of coffee before you slide on to the next.

The Inquirer generally considers all fatalities news, but journalism has a value system that makes some deaths more newsworthy than others. For this story, there’s no reason to pound the pavement:

A 21-year-old man was fatally wounded in a shooting Monday night in the city’s Nicetown section, police said.

The victim was outside in the 4300 block of North 15th Street when he was shot once in the head, police said. He was transported by medics to Temple University Hospital and pronounced dead at 8:12 p.m. …

Published as “Victim No. 203” in the December 2020 issue of Philadelphia magazine.