More than 60 people gathered at South Richmond’s Carter Jones Park on Tuesday evening to light candles, decorate paper hearts and pray for the little girl who was killed there, her family and the community shaken by the weekend’s violence.
Jen Black, who lives near the park where 9-year-old Markiya Simone Dickson and a boy were gunned down Sunday, watched as her 3-year-old daughter colored on a paper heart recounting how she had seen police cars and heard that someone was hurt.
Markiya died at the hospital; the boy, 11, is expected to survive.
“It was sad,” the 3-year-old said.
Black brought her 3-year-old and 12-year-old daughters to the vigil to support the Dickson family and help reclaim the park. Her 10-year-old son was too upset to come with them.
“It’s a space where we come to just be in our community,” Black said. “This is still a community space.”
Richmond police officer Carol Adams helped organize the prayer vigil. Normally, a local group gets together at Carter Jones Park on Tuesdays and Thursdays to play basketball, but Adams thought it would be better to pause and remember Markiya.
“I just knew we couldn’t go on as usual,” she said.
After the lighting of the candles and a moment of silence, Adams implored those gathered to remain united.
“We just have to be this way all the time,” she said. “We’ve got to get in front of this … we can’t be losing our babies.”
At a news conference earlier Tuesday, interim Police Chief William Smith said detectives “have little information to go on” as the authorities investigate the shooting. “We have had a number of tips, but we need more,” he said.
The children were part of a large community cookout that was happening in the park when an argument and gunfire broke out about 7:20 p.m. Sunday among a separate group at the basketball court and skateboard park at the far end of the park at 27th and Perry streets.
“They were completely innocent [bystanders],” Smith said of the two victims.
There were two off-duty Richmond police officers who had been hired as security for the cookout, Smith said. He asked anyone with video from the gathering or who might have seen or heard the argument to contact police.
Community members expressed frustration Tuesday evening, saying they are often treated with suspicion when they try to help — like Markiya’s father and another young man who were handcuffed by a Richmond police officer - originally identified by authorities as a VCU officer - after they brought her bleeding body to the hospital, organizers of the cookout said Tuesday night. They shared their frustrations with Charles Willis, executive director of United Communities Against Crime, outside New Life Deliverance Tabernacle, where a community meeting was held. The two men were eventually let go, according to Willis and New Life’s pastor, Robert Winfree, who said police owed the family an apology.
Inside the church, more frustrations were aired about disparities among policing and sentencing for communities of color. Winfree railed against the violence that’s gripped the community around his church on Decatur Street, across the street from the Marsh courthouse.
“I’m tired of doing funerals,” he said, challenging his parishioners and others in attendance to get cameras for their homes as warning to those who would do harm to their neighborhoods. “That sends a message: Not in this community. Not here. Not now. Not ever.”
At City Hall, Mayor Levar Stoney and other city officials spoke out against the violence. Markiya is the second child killed this month, and 23 adults have died from violence this year, which is three more than this time last year.
“It was a senseless and tragic act that breaks my heart and I know it breaks the heart of the many of our families who reside here in the city,” Stoney said. “These sort of acts of violence destroy the fabric that allows children to be children.”
Richmond Public Schools Superintendent Jason Kamras said there were dozens of children in the park Sunday who witnessed the tragedy.
“They will carry that trauma into their lives, and certainly into their classrooms,” Kamras said. “Sadly, this is all too common for many of the young people in Richmond Public Schools.”
He said the school system continues to invest in mental health support, and will provide counselors for those affected by the shooting. Kamras said the boy who was injured was an RPS student; Markiya had previously attended Richmond schools but was currently a third-grader at Crestwood Elementary in Chesterfield County.
Crestwood Principal Lindsay Porzio sent an email to parents Monday saying the school would also offer counselors .
“It is just one word: senseless,” Stoney said. “I want each and every family to be able to walk into a park and feel like my kids can go out and play. Unfortunately, there are many, many areas and neighborhoods in our community where that is not possible. That should not be the case.”
Those with information should contact Detective Benjamin Neifeld at Benjamin.Neifeld@richmondgov.com or (804) 646-3246.
You can also contact Crime Stoppers by calling (804) 780-1000, going to www.7801000.com or using the P3 Tips app for smartphones.
All Crime Stoppers methods are anonymous.
This story has been updated to correct the name of Carter Jones Park.