Marquis Hamilton was smiling when he coaxed a store cashier into giving him a cigarette before wandering back to the street corner a few ticks past 8 on Friday night.
Moments later, after an exchange of gunfire at the corner of Market Avenue and Fifth Street, Hamilton was back.
The 20-year-old lunged through the front door and flopped onto the floor. Tires squealed on Fifth Street. Hamilton’s shirt was wet with blood. He stopped his desperate crawl once he reached cover behind the third aisle at Rancho Market and Deli, between the coolers and the dry soups.
“He kept saying ‘I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe,’” remembered the cashier, who declined to give his name. “I ran and called 9-1-1, then I just held him, he was still conscious when (paramedics) got here.”
Hamilton, known in the neighborhood as Mark, was pronounced dead at a local hospital later that night.
“It’s sad, man,” said Jerry Williams, 35, Monday night near the corner where Hamilton was shot. “He’s somebody’s son, and he’s somebody’s dad, and now he’s gone, for what?”
Several patrons of the store on Monday said Hamilton, a Richmond resident, was the father of a young daughter.
Evidence of the deadly episode was still in stark view Monday afternoon. A dense stretch of shattered glass gleamed in the intersection in front of the market. Witnesses said Hamilton was hanging out in front of the store for several hours Friday with between three and five other young men.
After 8 p.m., with the streets dark, a car traveling north on Fifth Street halted, and at least one occupant opened fire on Hamilton and the others.
The initial volley drew return fire from someone on the block, some of which struck the vehicle and shattered at least one of its windows, witnesses said.
No other injuries were reported. The site has been the scene of several deadly shootings in recent years, a fact some residents and law enforcement officials attribute to the store’s status as a de facto community gathering point. For years, the market’s west facing wall served as a memorial to the victims of street violence in North Richmond, but the owner last month re-painted the wall a cream color.
Sheriff’s spokesman Jimmy Lee said the car was found abandoned in the city of Richmond a short time later.
Hamilton’s killing is the fifth homicide in unincorporated North Richmond this year, an especially high number given that the area is only about one-square mile and home to about 3,700 people.
Although North Richmond is patrolled by county Sheriff’s deputies, violence here tends to spark retaliation in rival neighborhoods in the city of Richmond. Capt. Mark Gagan said Richmond police monitor crime in North Richmond and are on high alert.
“We have extended patrol operations over the weekend to have several two-officer cars patrolling the hot spots,” Gagan said. ”We have brought in extra officers to patrol locations where we anticipate retaliatory violence.”
Staff writer Meghan Walsh contributed to this report