By Kathryn M. Miller
In the early morning hours of June 3 and 4, two violent incidents took place that left the Sunnyslope community shaken and looking for answers.
Just before midnight on June 3, 15-year-old Damarkus Edison was shot and killed just steps outside of his home near 13th Avenue and Vogel. Barely an hour later, shots rang out at a strip mall near 10th Avenue and Hatcher, where some 100 people had gathered for a social media promoted party. That incident left another teenager dead, 14-year-old Emily Morgan, and eight others injured.
The back-to-back incidents have left one Sunnyslope family grieving and leaders looking for answers on how to help the community heal and move forward.
In an online “Go Fund Me” set up to help the family (www.gofundme.com/f/damarkus-edison-funeral-expenses), Damarkus’ aunt, Nicole Walter, described the teen as, “an ambitious child who pursued the things he loved. He had a passion for music and wrote songs regularly. He enjoyed playing basketball in the park, singing at the top of his lungs, and spending time with loved ones.”
Walter added, “Nothing in the world could have prepared our family for the tragic shooting that took my precious nephew’s life that night. His murder is still under investigation, and we are only left to try to make sense of such a senseless tragedy.”
She encourages anyone who can offer investigative leads to contact the police.
Action from city and state officials came swiftly. On June 22, the Phoenix Police Department (PD), Mayor Kate Gallego, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives, Maricopa County Attorney’s office and the U.S. Attorney, District of Arizona, were joined by the family of Emily Morgan as they announced the launch of Operation Gun Crime Crackdown, a multi-agency effort to reduce gun crime in Phoenix that will launch July 5.
The Phoenix Police Department will assign detectives to precincts with the highest gun related crimes to work with neighborhood enforcement teams and patrol officers. In addition, the ATF will provide access to gun intelligence technology, PD will work in real time with Maricopa County prosecutors, and the U.S. Attorney’s office when a federal crime is indicated. But above all, the community is asked to speak up when they see something.
Police Chief Jeri Williams implored, “If you hear gunfire in your neighborhood, we want you to know we need you to call 9-1-1. Please don’t turn a deaf ear.”
Gabe Keely, Emily’s father added, “We need help.” He shared his confidence that there would be justice done in this case, and added, “But it will come sooner if you help us.”
Those who have information on unsolved crimes can contact Silent Witness: 480-WITNESS or 480-TESTIGO.
As the families of the victims cope with their loss and grief, Sunnyslope leaders are thoughtfully, resolutely looking for ways to help the community heal and move forward.
The evening of June 4, Reverend Cleo Lewis was struggling to come to terms with the night’s violence.
“This was probably the last thing… getting a phone call in the middle of the night that there’s a mass shooting in a tight-knit community was surprising as well as shocking. To hear that teenagers were among the victims of this was, I can’t even find the words for that.”
Lewis is uniquely familiar with the area. As an outreach pastor, he ministers to area families and those who are experiencing homelessness, particularly in the Hatcher corridor. As a resident for more than a decade, he is also actively involved with the West Sunnyslope Neighborhood Association & Block Watch.
Whether it is pushing for more programs at local youth centers, implementing the Hatcher Road Community Safety Plan, which was approved by the Phoenix mayor and council in February, or just engaging the community in ongoing dialogue, Lewis feels that there is a lot that can be done.
“Sunnyslope may not be everyone’s impression of a bedrock community; it’s exactly our bedrock community. So, we’re going to be communicating. We’re going to be talking to residents. And we’re going to help everyone heal from this, and we’re going get better.”
Nadine Alauria echoed many of Lewis’ sentiments. She is a Phoenix native and Sunnyslope transplant. Her family’s business has four decades of history in the area, and she, too, is deeply engaged with the community, particularly as co-chair with Caroline Lobo of the H.U.B. — Hatcher Urban Businesses.
Her message to the community is one of safety, “If you see something, say something,” and of engagement.
“I’ve just never seen anything like the community; the neighborhood groups working with the schools, the police department, the businesses, some nonprofits here in the area. Then we work with other business alliances and other community groups outside of Sunnyslope, not to mention the six or seven here in Sunnyslope.” (www.eastsunnyslope.com/sisterblockwatches).
She added, “Even though we all might have different beliefs on this or that, I do know that everybody would agree on peace.”
Those messages of peace, love and healing for the neighborhood were echoed once again at a community vigil, held June 16 at the Sunnyslope Family Services Center, across the street from where the June 4 shooting took place.
Lobo, who organized the event, opened by saying, “We have come together today in solidarity and community healing spirit.”
Community members young and old performed music, read poems, shared prayers and spoke of the spirit of Sunnyslope, community togetherness and a path forward.
Lewis closed the vigil by remarking, “The theme tonight is, ‘We love you. We care about you.’ And we will do anything to promote your healing and wellbeing. In spite of tragedy, we stand with you and among you. And we encourage our young people to keep moving forward and pressing in.”