In a hail of bullets, Rodney Allen Frazier, 16, was dead
on November 12, 2014
Rodney Allen Frazier loved motorbikes.
He rode his favorite dirt bike home Friday night. He parked outside of the metal gate beside the curb. His aunt left the porch light on for him. It was well before his 10 p.m. curfew.
Moments later a hail of bullets was fired from a car, and the driver sped away.
Rodney’s friends came running from across the street when they heard the gunfire. Bullet holes pocked the garage door. A trail of blood was in the driveway. Rodney lay bleeding in a bush near the front door. His dirt bike helmet was still on.
“I was holding him, he was shaking,” Rodney’s best friend, Espanosa Matthews, said the following day, “and then he just died in front of me.”
Rodney was 16 years old.
Rodney’s death is the third homicide in the tiny enclave of North Richmond this year. The city of Richmond has seen another 13 homicides. Most of the victims have been young black men. Rodney was just a boy.
Police told the family roughly 18 shots were fired in the attack. One was fatal.
The day after the shooting, Rodney’s family grieves and struggles to make sense of it all.
Rodney’s 86-year-old grandfather sits beside a window in the living room staring blankly at the site where his grandson, whom he called “Little Buddy,” was killed. Beside him, baseball and basketball trophies sit on a mantel. A pair of oversized sneakers lay next to a coffee table.
A bullet hole marks a kitchen counter.
Outside, a steady stream of visitors add flowers and candles to the makeshift memorial.
“It’s unbelievable, it’s shocking,” Amara James, Rodney’s aunt, said. “He was not a troublemaker, not into drugs, not into guns, he wasn’t into violence. He wasn’t into the street life at all.”
Rodney’s passions were motorbikes and basketball.
He started working on bicycles at the age of 12 and eventually moved to go-karts, mini bikes and dirt bikes. He repaired his friend’s bikes for free and dreamed of one day becoming a mechanic.
The night he was killed, Rodney was getting gas for his dirt bike for the next day’s trail ride with his friends.
“We were like brothers,” Matthews says. “(We) played football, basketball, looked at videos of dirt bikes, and if we couldn’t find dirt bikes, go back home and work on our dirt bikes.”
Rodney was a junior and a point guard on Richmond High’s basketball team. Friends described him as a leader on the court the younger players looked up to. He was also known as a prankster who joked with his teammates about missed shots.
“He was the heart and soul of my basketball program,” Richmond High basketball coach Robert Collins said. “All of the teachers cared about him, he had the sweetest heart, but he was tough when he played basketball.”
Teammates and coaches are planning to meet at Richmond Civic Center Plaza at 5 p.m. tonight to call for an end to the violence.
Rodney took camping trips with his church and worked in gardens during the summer months with Urban Tilth, a local urban gardening nonprofit program. He mowed lawns, fixed pocket bikes and sold pocket bikes to make extra money.
“He was becoming a man,” Amara says. “You wouldn’t think he was 16 years old.”
Rodney had a pit bull named Rocky and a cat named Daisy that died a few years ago. He was learning to drive and hoped to get his license.
But systemic poverty and violence made North Richmond a difficult place to grow up.
“It happens all the time, somebody just got shot (here) not too long ago,” says Althea Evans, 21, Rodney’s half-sister. “It’s nonstop around here.”
Last week, nine people were the victims of gun violence in both Richmond and North Richmond. Five of the victims were teenagers. Two died.
In a neighbor’s front yard, family and friends sit beneath a plum tree and chat about Rodney’s life and the violence in the neighborhood.
Rodney and his friends recently sold bags of plums from the tree for $3 a bag out of a red wagon, neighbor Bobby Ellerbee says.
“They came back with about $40.”
A man says a shooting occurred across the street a few years ago. Three people were killed in that incident.
Two young men approach the fence. When asked to describe what they saw on Friday, they declined to talk and quickly moved away.
From an early age, Rodney was faced with adversity.
With his father suffering from schizophrenia and a mother unable to care for him, Rodney was raised by his grandmother.
His grandmother was very protective of Rodney. She would wait for him to come home, sitting on a chair on the porch. Except for a few trips to the Hilltop area to get a haircut, Rodney was forbidden from traveling by bus, a family member said. Years earlier, an uncle barely survived a gunshot wound to the head while traveling on a bus.
Last year Rodney’s grandmother died of cancer. She was the “rock of our family,” Amara said.
Outside his home, Rodney’s friends, neighbors and extended family stand beside photographs of him surrounded by flickering candles. They talk about the difficulties growing up in North Richmond and the challenges raising a child here.
Lucertya Rayford, 30, lives nearby with her son Deari, 13, and a 15-year-old daughter. She worries about her children and wants them home each night before dark.
“This happens all the time,” Lucertya says. “It just hasn’t happened with a real respected kid that isn’t in the gangs.”
A friend Emil Williams, 14, stands next to a picture of Rodney.
“You know someone is going to die one day out here. If somebody gets shot one time it’s not going to stop, it just keeps going on and on.”
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