She still doesn’t set foot in the Chinese restaurant on the corner of Norris Street and Germantown Avenue, where her son collapsed. She will go to Cousin’s across the street, but mostly because it’s the closest supermarket to her house, a couple of blocks away.
If Kathy Lees could, she’d avoid the area.
On June 10, 2011, her 17-year-old son, Justin Reyes, and a friend were shot outside a North Philadelphia bodega at Sixth and Norris.
Reyes ran down the block to the Chinese restaurant, screaming for help. Eight hours after a bullet hit him in the stomach and ricocheted through his organs, he died at Temple University Hospital.
“Everywhere I look, there are horrible memories,” Lees said as we stood on the corner one recent night.
She wants to move back to New York City, from which she had moved to give her son a better life, a safer one.
She buried him there. But she won’t leave Philly until someone is held responsible for killing her only child.
Six years later, she’s still here.
And so at 6 p.m. Thursday, she will join other Philadelphians touched by violence — which is all of us on one level or another. We’re meeting on the Art Museum steps in hopes of putting faces to the gun violence that too often goes unanswered in this city.
In hopes that someone will see the growing grief in a mother’s eyes and speak up.
The friend she believes was the target.
Any of the people on the street that night who must have seen something.
Maybe to claim the $21,000 reward. Or maybe because finally, the fear of retribution or of being labeled a snitch will be outweighed by the collective guilt of letting killers walk free on our streets.
At 15th/Lehigh for a motorcade against violence. pic.twitter.com/67fIT2oyIu
— Helen Ubiñas (@NotesFromHeL) June 7, 2017
This is the second time I’ve asked people who have been affected by gun violence to gather at the Art Museum steps.
Last year, the event followed the massacre in Orlando that claimed 49 lives.
This year it comes after a rifleman opened fire Wednesday morning at a congressional baseball practice in Virginia, wounding several people including the House majority whip, Rep. Steve Scalise, a Republican from Louisiana.
This isn’t an anti-gun rally. Or a gun-control protest, although I wonder if we’ll ever have the honest conversation needed for commonsense gun reform in our country.
It is a moment to highlight the many victims of gun violence in this city. There have been 140 murders and 636 shootings this year in which 528 people were hit. Behind all those numbers stand heartbroken families, numb brothers and sisters, fatherless and motherless children, and people who have dedicated themselves to bearing witness to the kind of violence that rarely captures the nation’s headlines or hashtags or thoughts and prayers. They are struggling to find answers to this all-too-familiar chaos.
Lees prays every day that someone will pay for killing her son, that one day the horrible memories of the street near her home will be mixed with at least a little peace in knowing that someone was held accountable.
She was in a daze of despair after her son died. Some memories she has recalled over the years, some she wishes she could forget: how cold her son felt to her touch when she still believed he might pull through, how the doctor delivered the news that he had not.
Your son has expired. Expired. The word still stings.
Shortly after his death, Lees held a vigil in the parking lot across the street from the bodega, begging anyone with information to step forward. She got involved with anti-violence organizations, bonding with other family members seeking the same kind of justice. She believed someone would say something.
And then, no one did. The silence drained her, shook her faith. But lately she has become invigorated and empowered by other mothers standing together, fighting the same fight. Mothers like Aleida Garcia and Lisa Espinosa, who relentlessly sought justice for the murders of their sons.
Angel Sister are mothers who have lost a child or loved one to homicide pic.twitter.com/YIHXFZoZ7M
— JusticeforAlexnow (@Justice_4_alex) June 10, 2017
I’d love nothing more than for Lees to get the long overdue justice she deserves.
But at the very least, the very least, I’d love for Philadelphians from throughout the city to join her on the Art Museum steps.
To show her that she is not alone.
That Philadelphia stands united in the fight against gun violence.