Death of a hoop dream

By MIKE MILIARD  |  August 28, 2008

On May 19, two days after the murder, more than 700 people gathered for a march and rally in Hornsby Jr.’s honor. “No More Violence!” the crowd bellowed as they marched through Springfield’s streets. “Increase the peace!”

Two days after that, since the Hornsbys’ church, Freedom House Church of God, was far too small for the more than 3700 people who showed up for the funeral, services were held at Springfield’s Symphony Hall. Peter Pan donated buses to shuttle the throngs back and forth. Hornsby Jr.’s basketball teammates, dressed in Central High tracksuits, were his pallbearers.

GANG VIOLENCE: Kieson S. Cuffee, 17, an alleged member of the Eastern Avenue Posse, has been charged, along with Daniel G. Williams III, with the murder of Hornsby Jr.

An epidemic of violence
A pre-trial conference for Hornsby Jr.’s alleged killers is scheduled for September 15. Earlier this month, Hampden County Superior Court Judge Tina Page ruled that defense lawyers for Cuffee and Williams — who’ve both pleaded not guilty — cannot give their clients any identifying information about the witnesses, for fear of gang reprisals. (Homicide investigators believe Hornsby Jr. was the unintended casualty of a territorial beef between the Eastern Avenue and Sycamore Street Posses.)

It’s precisely because he hopes to stop that cycle of violence and revenge that Hornsby Sr. is less concerned about the trial — about exacting legal retribution for his son — than he is about trying to make sure his loss becomes a catalyst for positive change.

When Brown — who ran for mayor of Springfield in 1995, when she was 18, and has recently launched what may be a quixotic campaign to oust long-time state representative Benjamin Swan — founded AWAKE, four years ago, “We were going to funerals every other week.”

She tells of one mother who lost two sons, 19-year-old twins Daylan and Darnell Shepard, five-and-a-half weeks apart, in separate shootings. (When the Shepards were growing up, they had been poster children — literally, on the posters — for the United Way.)

In Springfield, Hornsby Sr. says, “violence is an epidemic.” He can’t believe it’s possible for his son’s killer to squeeze off “nine rounds out of a .45 caliber. How does a kid get a .45 caliber? The police department can’t even afford to buy their officers guns, which they need!”

He mentions that, two months before Hornsby Jr.’s murder, Cuffee was arrested after allegedly threatening a Walgreens manager with a butterfly knife while shoplifting.

“Those are the kind of kids we’re going after,” says Hornsby Sr. “Those are the kids we want.” Other violence-prevention groups, he says, don’t want to deal with challenges like that. “They want the goody-two-shoes, so they can show results. I want the ones you think can’t show results. And we’re gonna prove that we can.”

The kids targeted by groups like AWAKE and Do It For Mario are the hardest of the hard cases. “A lot of people, people have written them off,” says Brown. “Their school has written them off, their church has even written them off, their parents have even written them off. We work tirelessly. We’re out in the streets at two and three in the morning. We don’t see results immediately. But when working with young people like this, you’ve got to be in it for the long haul.”

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